In my final semester of the Bachelor of Architectural Studies degree (second semester, third year) my design paper is based in digital modelling and the future of architecture in New Zealand

The genesis of this project is rooted in an exploration of the possibilities for Computational Fluid Dynamics within an architectural paradigm. Essentially, this project questions our current perception of water/other Fluid substances and whether there is room for their application to an architectural problem. Fluids have many properties which make them a very interesting material to work with, properties such as its ability to retain volume, or the way it conforms to fit a vessel of any shape, so this became my primordial concern – how can the adaptive nature of a fluid manifest itself and transcend the way we presently think about buildings. form, and space?

So when the adaptive nature becomes our primary concern, a lot of other spin offs become possibilities. If a building could be made of liquid, this really begins to interrogate several things fundamental to our established ideas of architecture. Form is no longer permanent, in fact form is no longer an adequate way to describe the resulting state of matter. We are no longer bound to site, an adaptive building needs no fixed location – a fluid building could just as easily exist on land as it would in the water. The programme of the building as well is almost unnecessary, as any requirements for the building can be made on the fly.

So what this project is really creating is a system. A system of architecture which operates completely unlike anything we have ever seen before. So how does this system work? How do we garner any control over Fluids? In order to achieve this, we need to use a specific kind of Fluid, one which can be moulded indirectly, one which can respond to field conditions, the solution lies in a specific category known as Smart Fluids. Smart Fluids rely on a change in field strength (be it electric or magnetic) in order to create a form of sorts. A special kind of Fluid called Ferrofluid is a magnetically charged Fluid which can be shaped by a given magnetic field, so now the problem becomes how do we shape the magnetic field so as to control this system.

And herein lies the bulk of the proposition. My project suggests that people will be fitted with a suit, which, when activated, essentially turns their person into a node of a greater magnetic field.

As an individual tracks along, the Fluid will respond accordingly, creating a space or volume around them. However this becomes a lot more interesting when the magnetic fields of different individuals interact with each other, creating an interference pattern of sorts in a three dimensional space.

The different magnetic polarities and their relative proximities serve to define an entirely different experiential quality to the space. Furthermore, each individual will have control over the strength of their own magnetic field and poles via the wearable device attached to their palm.

Now of course, the magnetic field which has been created does exist indefinitely, in fact the magnetic field will hold for only brief amounts of time, relying on residual magnetism in the field to allow the particles to hold  until they are disturbed again or until the residual magnetism wears off. What this also entails is that when no one is occupying the building, the matter which creates it will slowly but surely reside into its ‘rest state’ until it is further re-agitated.

Some 3D Prints of the final model as well:

I wanted to 3D print some wearables for my project this semester, so in order to do that, I had to do some 3D scans of my hand. This in fact turned out to be surprisingly difficult, as I had to try and hold my hand incredibly still in order to be able to orbit around and capture the detail. Here’s the result after a few attempts:

This was as good a result as we could get after a few attempts, as you can see, the fingers don’t line up very well on the front and back of the hand due to the movement during the scan, so this method was really less than ideal.

I decided to do a plaster cast of my hand by first making a reverse cast in alginate, and then use that as a static model to capture with the 3D scanner, and this turned out to be a much more successful method (As a side note, I’m incredibly impressed with the amount of detail the plaster cast managed to retain, right down to the fingerprints on my fingers, see images).

As you can see in the last image, this turned out a lot better, with only minor issues in the middle and ring fingers which were easy enough to resolve in maya and zbrush.

What this project aims to create is an architectural system. A system which allows the inhabitant to create and control the architecture rather than be a mere observer of an already built environment.

The system abides by three rules:

  1. There is no final form, no end goal, the form is temporal, it is a product of the inhabitants movement through space.
  2. The only rest state of the building is when there are no inhabitants, one where there is no one to affect the form. When no one is present the building subsides into the terrain.
  3. Where multiple individuals interact, the effect is multiplied, creating a greater temporary inhabitable volume.

The material is a huge part in creating a system like this. The material must be able to rigid enough to hold a form while at the same time being fluid enough to be adaptable and malleable. The solution to this lies in a scope of fluids which do not perform like normal fluids, fluids which exhibit non newtonian behaviour. These fluids have the ability to change from a liquid to a pseudo-solid state upon an array of interactions.

The mechanism which turns the skin from solid to liquid relies on an increase in magnetic field activity. Inhabitants of this system (in order to interact with the space) must wear a device which generates a magnetic field around them. When the liquid is in close enough proximity to this field, it abides to the direction of the magnetic field lines, creating an enclosure which moves with the subject, and where multiple fields interact, ie. numerous inhabitants in close proximity, the greater the resultant space.

The magnetic field will be generated by users of the building, each wearing a suit as shown in the animation below (work in progress), this device will be able to generate a magnetic field of variable strength, great enough to temporarily solidify the encompassing area.

The space however will only hold for a limited amount of time, as an inhabitant moves around in space, the ferrofluid they have interacted with holds some residual magnetism, and this residual magnetism, coupled with the low magnetic permeability of ferrofluid means that it can retain its shape for brief periods of time.

I’ve been setting up a few 3D Prints for testing purposes, to see what kind of definition can be obtained from the various 3D Printers, as well as how the different meshes will turn out. The first 3D print was done on an UP printer, the second on a Makerbot 2X, and the third on an industrial 3D printer. Here’s the results:

The first 3D print wasn’t a great success, definitely looked a lot better as a digital model than in print.

The second model turned out pretty good! Surprisingly, the Makerbot did pretty well on the resolution of the result.

The third 3D print turned out really really good! Well impressed with the result and fidelity of the mesh, but at the same time really scared to handle the result as it is incredibly delicate.

The last 3D print also turned out really great compared to a simple render of it:

I took some of the stills from my last post and did some image manipulation to bring out some of the detail that I think gets lost in the animations. I tried to recreate and enhance the depth, particularly in the first sequence of images. The second image to me almost creates sense of spatial quality, at the very least an atmospheric condition.

But what these illustrations really succeed in is suggesting a sense of permeability and looseness. Since my design this semester is focused on the idea of adaptation, it is paramount to express the notion of boundary (or lack thereof) and its inherent flexibility. Furthermore, it is important to interrogate this idea of inside and outside space for the success of my concept and ultimately how well this looseness will be portrayed.

After doing some more tests in the last few days, I’ve gotten into some smoke effects, which have been working with varying degrees of success. I’m still trying to understand the maya fluids system, but there certainly are a lot of variables and configurations that I’ll keep chugging through for my catalogue.

I also rendered out a bifrost sequence as they have been producing the best (most liquidy) results so far.

I’ve been moving away from Maya Bifrost in the last week or so to explore some of the more traditional dynamics systems in Maya. This here is a combination of nParticles as well as Maya Fluids.

Below are two early simulations I’ve done, the aim at this stage is create a sizable catalogue of tinkering with different effects in the fluids and dynamics systems available, with the intention to gain a better understanding of the dynamics systems and how to garner more control over this complex system.

Much more testing to come.

My investigation thus far this semester has lead me into the world of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD’s), and so I have been asking myself where exactly do fluids fit into the paradigm of architecture?

As architects, we tend to think of water for its spiritual quality and its close ties with the natural world, but what if we could literally make a building out of water or a watery-like substance? There are so many underlying properties to water which fundametally would make it an incredibly effective building material:

  • very high thermal mass
  • completely transparent
  • fire resistant
  • non toxic
  • comparatively low density
  • widely available and accessible

But above all, water is adaptable. The real strength of a fluid architecture would be its inherent dynamism. Moving forward, without entirely knowing what the future will hold for us as a species, a building material as flexible as water would be of great benefit!

So how could this become possible?

In my brief research I have come across two possible types of fluids; Non Newtonian Fluids; and Smart Fluids.

Non Newtonian Fluids have the ability to change their viscosity under certain forces such as pressure, stirring or spreading. And amongst the different types of Non Newtonian Fluids there exist both types which are able to change from solid to liquid or vice versa, at present it is unclear which type will be more beneficial. My thinking currently is that it would be better to have a material which holds its shape (solid) until the condition is applied to it and it becomes a liquid. So in this case, these types of Non Newtonian Fluids are called Thixotropic materials.

Smart Fluids act principally in a similar way. They too have the ability to change their viscosity but based on a difference in the field charge, ie. They react to the presence of either a magnetic or electric field. Unlike Non Newtonian Fluids, Smart Fluids can only change from liquid to solid when the field is activated and will hold their shape as long as the field is constant. However this provides other benefits. This means that hypothetically it should be possible to sculpt or shape these fluids with much greater control, and they are much more malleable.

The key thing with these materials will be, will the change in material viscosity be enough to maintain a degree of rigidity in the solid state and thus how does the material’s flexibility then expose itself. My research question also, is as follows:

How can Computational Fluid Dynamics be used to create and inform new malleable building fabrics in order to move towards an architecture which is truly adaptable?