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Defining responsive textiles and reactive façade systems

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To make the terms “responsive” and “reactive” more understandable, a look at common approaches to shading systems is necessary.

Recent innovations in parametric architecture allow for finely controlled and adapted façade systems that react to diverse building and user needs. The control of the elements refers to both their shape and production (individually designed units, perfectly adapted to their position in the building, CNC machines assisted fabrication) and to the refined functioning and timing of the façade, made possible by sensors and actuators, but also by thorough research, during the design phase, of all scenarios in which the system must properly function. These scenarios include different weather conditions and the respective desires of the building’s users. Therefore the façade must provide a well-adapted state or shape for each of the impulses received from the user.

During the design phase, the possible states of the building skin are well documented. Each user command triggers a foreseen reaction of the system and therefore a specific shape of the façade. The user has in this case complete and direct control of the façade system and technology, and the system form is inflicted upon the material from the outside. Similarly, the system is reactive and not responsive.

Façades that have the ability to interact with their surroundings and that are capable of an adaptive behavior are regarded as responsive. In this case, the user does not control the technology directly, but represents a change in the containing environment, and the form represents a capability of the system, not the result of user influence. It is an emerging phenomenon arising from the instability of the system given by the multitude of parameters interacting with the facade, remaining open and indeterminate.

This shift in perspective, where formal becomes behavioral and motion takes over image, helped narrow down the research goal. Material systems were investigated, the configurations of which allowed the indeterminacy and the inherent instability required by the purpose of continual adaption and self-organization in a dynamic and changing context.

This article is a further development of the work “Responsive Textiles,” conducted by Elena Vlasceanu as a diploma project at the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design, University of Stuttgart, Germany, under the supervision, and with the collaboration of, Dipl.-Ing. Julian Lienhard and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jan Knippers.

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