The architecture of the future will not be static, but will respond to its users and the environment. Interactive design methods will make this possible, says doctoral candidate Jia-Rey Chang. In his research, 'HyperCells' serve as the building blocks for an organic architecture that is continually transforming.

The building blocks that Chang envisages are similar to Lego bricks, but capable of transforming their geometric shape and continually taking on different qualities. In principle, HyperCells can be used to build anything. “It can be compared to DNA. Although all living beings share DNA, not all animals look the same”, says the doctoral candidate who comes from Taiwan. “HyperCells can be used to build walls and tables, and even the façades of buildings.” This opens up completely new opportunities. A living room interior made up of HyperCell elements can transform into an office environment that fulfils users’ demands by way of embedded intelligence. In the same way, if he or she throws a party, it can take on the form of a discotheque. The smart building blocks give the building chameleon-like qualities. 

In his thesis entitled 'HyperCell: A Bio-inspired Design Framework for Real-time Interactive Architectures', Chang explores the possibilities of such a chameleon-like architecture. The three central themes of his thesis are: 'computation', 'embodiment' and 'biology'. His research reveals that computers, algorithms and parametric design applications can help give a new meaning to the concept of 'form' in architecture. An architectural form no longer needs to be the result of information processing, but constantly operates as an information processor itself, using the information collected to change continually. Just like in nature. Analysing how flocks of birds or schools of fish behave can help to program smart building elements for that role.

The building of the future envisioned by Chang should be able to react to sunshine and rain. The interior should be able to respond intuitively to its occupants. Literally. So, if an occupant walks into a wall, the wall should be capable of moving. Does this mean that the building of the future no longer needs doors? Chang: “It's conceivable. An interior wall made from HyperCells can respond to the movements of occupants.” 

Interactive design methods are now bringing the wild ideas developed in the 1960s by the avant-garde design group Archigram almost within reach. A made-to-measure pack that can unfold to create a home or a town in motion or a city made up of smart elements that can be plugged into the central infrastructure.

With the help of HyperCell elements, architecture would also be able to learn to follow natural processes. It should be possible for building structures to develop from an embryonic stage to that of an adult, in a similar way to evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo). Chang hopes that in the future we will be able to purchase ready-to-use smart HyperCell building elements in a DIY store. But it will take a lot of development, time and money. “I hope I will live to see it happen. In any case, we will have made significant progress in ten years' time.” 

Interactive design methods can also prove useful in tackling practical problems. On completing his PhD, Chang will be developing interactive objects at the University of Delaware's Interaction Design Lab as assistant professor. The aim is to increase the independence of children with Arthrogryposis multiplex congenital (AMC). He will also continue to work on his HyperCell concept and on projects around his philosophy of 'space as a living being'.

Published: January 2018

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