Author Archives: Timothy Perkins



Link to PDF: 2C_Paper_Perkins

In Project 2B, I attempted to use computational adaptation to solve some of the common transportation issues found in Chinese cities by making both vehicular and pedestrian transportation routes exclusive so that traffic can flow more smoothly and people can have a more neighborhood-like experience when walking from place to place. I raised my neighborhoods and commercial areas off of the ground, using the pedestrian routes as a means to connect them as bridges. The cars and buses, then, can fluidly travel around these raised areas with less logistical interruption. The scripts I use will allow neighborhoods to connect to each other via drawing lines between the centroids of neighborhoods automatically.

Earlier, in Project 1, I used the computer to simulate an adaptive tensile fabric double membrane to create an enclosure around a hotel’s commercial space. The ribs of the structure can move vertically to allow the space to change and adapt to different seasons and aesthetic experiences, e.g. the ceiling can change height to allow for more intimacy or more openness, or to contain heat. The computational method is more simple and specific than the strategy I utilized in Project 2B.

Rakha and Reinhart’s MIT paper on computational simulation of urban expansion states in its conclusion, “The fact that different performance metrics are competing is a driver for urban form that explores unlimited possibilities only conceivable due to building performance simulation.” The authors used a Grasshopper/Rhinoceros simulator in order to allow different metric configurations to compete with each other in order to allow urban neighborhoods to adapt to irregular terrain when they expand geographically (see Figure I for placement of community facilities based on topography), which, according to the paper, is the most popular form of urban development for our current centurt (as opposed to the formulation of new cities). The paper also states that this level of design thinking automates urban expansion that is usually under-budgeted. A properly-calibrated simulation, therefore, would allow urban designers to arrive at feasible transportation solution quickly when dealing with awkward terrain layouts.

According to a Wired Magazine article on responsive design, “’Tristan d’Estree Sterk is working on shape-changing ‘building envelopes’ using ‘actuated tensegrity structures’ — a system of rods and wires manipulated by pneumatic ‘muscles’ that serve as the building’s skeleton, forming the framework of all its walls.’” The article goes further to summarize Sterk’s effort to allow buildings to change shape using a robotic system of structure and skin. Figure II shows one of Sterk’s experimental membranes.

And so, as we have seen, computation in architecture can expedite the decision-making process for architects and other designers. The use of programs like Grasshopper/Rhinoceros and Maya can parametrically choose geometries based upon contextual parameters, such as topography and walking distance. (MIT paper). Furthermore, adaptive architecture can be effective in changing a building’s shape based upon seasons and weather (Sterk’s project). While reflecting these initiatives in my own projects, I can begin to understand how the computer is able to open up new doors and make decisions that have previously taken design teams much longer and more work to arrive at.


MIT paper:

Wired magazine article:

Sterk Membrane Image:






Scan 14

My concept is rooted in discovering a building that can dynamically transform during different seasons, with summer and winter being the most dramatic. Below are all of my sketches. The one with the bridge is the most forward-thinking at the moment. I want to create an experience similar to the New York High Line, where a pedestrian walkway experiences an entire building as a tunnel or entrance. In this case, the hotel would surround the Purple People Bridge as a threshold between Kentucky and Cincinnati. I hope to iteratively design a system where a large controlling mechanism that can shift an entire series of fabric membranes that expand in the summer and contract in the winter, allowing the building to perform efficiently and with a sense of expression throughout the year.

P1_Timothy Perkins_Equilibrium

Any tensile structure is dependent on the principle of physical static equilibrium, which means that all the forces that act upon an object are balancing each other out, causing the object to remain in one place. A basic, 2-dimensional example of this is when 2 people try to balance out a see-saw. If the 2 people weigh the same, and they are equidistant from the fulcrum on opposite sides of the see-saw (and no forces other than gravity are acting on them), then the see saw should become perfectly balanced. Ergo, in a 3-dimensional architectural setting, a tensile fabric surface must be in equilibrium in order to be successful, otherwise it is at risk of snapping to the side that pulls on it more than the others.

The Skysong at Arizona State University Campus by FTL Design Engineering Studio is and example of how a fabric surface can be contorted and winded around in a complex pattern while still maintaining static equilibrium. The compression elements only exist at the highest points of the structure in the center as columns that the fabric hangs from. Tension cables then stretch the fabric in different directions while bringing the forces back to the ground. The fabric, therefore, is just an extension of the structure. It is behaving the same way as a surface that the tension cables are as vectors. The structure is set up so that the columns pull the fabrics up while the cables pull it down. The engineers calculated a way to make the two forces cancel each other out so that the fabric remains in one place. One factor that can be detrimental to this equilibrium is wind. Most structures are designed to handle regular wind loads, but large storms have been known to easily compromise systems like this one, as the wind interferes with the forces stretching the fabric.

P1_Timothy Perkins_Minimal Surface

The idea of a minimal surface has to do with how the least amount of surface area can be used to achieve a purpose. In the example at, which is a proposal for an RTV Headquarters, the objective is to use the least amount of surface possible to interweave spaces in a building while making a porous facade to control environmental factors. Instead of 90 degree angles in section, this project uses fluid shapes and transitions for and between spaces so that surfaces are continuous and minimal.

The basic logic of minimal surface is a mathematical equation that is difficult to explain, but the concept occurs whenever you blow bubble through a ring. The soap liquid strives to create the minimum surface area possible while still connecting to all sides of the ring. The soap liquid behaves the same way that a fabric would as a roof membrane.

In the Munich Olympiastadions, Frei Otto uses the minimal surface as a way to enclose a space by blurring the border between roof and wall. When the roof and wall become a common surface, less area is required to enclose a space. The surfaces are made of a series of glass panels on a flexible, tensile metal frame. Otto is one of the first archietcts in the world to start using the minimal surface as a principal.