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This project explores the potential application of electro-active polymer (EAP) at an architectural scale. EAP offers a new relationship to built space through its unique combination of qualities. It is an ultra-lightweight, flexible material with the ability to change shape without the need for mechanical actuators. EAP is a polymer actuator that converts electrical power into mechanical force. In principle it consists of a thin layer of very elastic acrylic tape sandwiched between two electrodes.  Once the voltage in the range of several kilovolts is applied between the electrodes, the polymer changes its shape in two ways. First, due to the attraction of the opposing charges, the film is squeezed in the thickness direction (up to 380%), secondly, the repelling forces between equal charges on both electrodes result in a linear expansion of the film. As a result, after actuation the film becomes thinner and its surface area increases. If the supportive frame is flexible, due to the initial pre-stretching of the acrylic film, the frame bends. After application of voltage, the material expands, and the component flattens out.

While the subject matter seems futuristic, the basic concept is somewhat elementary. Skin, as described by Pallasmaa, is the basic human organ that interacts with the world. The number of ways that we understand the world is the product of the adaptability of this skin. It is thin and its plasticity encourages its specialization. The skin, over millenia, evolved from being a mere encasement, to something that perceives light, sound, taste, smell and touch. Similarly,  by using this lightweight EAP material, buildings may be afforded the opportunity to benefit from the evolution process. Not only can the building skin vary in porosity, translucency, and density like human skin, but it also has the opportunity to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

ShapeShift Video

  1. Very interesting. All other kinetic systems rely on moving parts, which will inevitably need servicing to maintain motion. This on the other hand allows for a system that is more akin to a computer then a mechanical system. This is taking the idea of biomimicry to a new level (this system is exactly that of a synapse in animal systems).

  2. Victoria Saunders

    The forms are beautiful, and could make a truly unique shading device. Perhaps if they were just strung like beads on a string and could expand like blinds, (only they would be in the horizontal direction instead of the vertical).

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