Performative building envelopes, state of the art and future potentials

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Over the past decade, the development of computer-aided design and manufacturing methods has generated new design opportunities for architects and engineers. Contemporary digital tools empower designers to adapt and optimize the geometry and spatial organization of buildings according to site-specific daylight and climate conditions and to reduce their environmental footprint. In this context, the choice of construction material plays an important role as well. The combination of digital tools with renewable materials such as wood enables the realization of buildings with higher environmental performance. Whereas traditional wood construction is based on linear log-derived elements, contemporary engineered wood is also available in planar panel-shaped formats. These geometric properties open up new design potentials for wooden structures and architecture. This thesis presents a design research project that focuses on developing a system for a performative building envelope called ‘Flex Shell’. Flex Shell is a material system that performs both on structural and environmental level ans has a part to whole approach. It is constituted of planar wooden components in simple geometries that are grouped and joined through an interlocking process and create an integrated double-layered shell. It is potential for high structural stability due to increased structural height, which is possible to control by the distance of its layers. The staggered arrangement of the panels provides the opportunity to direct natural light in a controlled way and creates a playful pattern of light and shadow inside the envelope. Flex Shell employs a parametric design approach and aims to provide a tool for covering free-form surfaces as well as long span structures with an adaptive and customizable system. Incorporating the principle of associative geometry, Flex Shell reacts to different curvatures of a given surface by adapting its structural depth accordingly. Structural and environmental analysis tools evaluate the performance of a given configuration during the design phase and create feedback loops that modify it and consequently lead to an optimized form. These modifications have an impact on different levels of the system, ranging from the global architectural form to the size, orientation, thickness and amount of the wooden panels. The design is carried out in three stages of research and at the end of each stage the design outcome is realized in a case study.
Kotnik, Toni
Thesis advisor
Hudert, Markus
performative building envelopes, advanced timber structures, computational design approach, innovative architectural and structural design, parametric design, sustainable architecture
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