Last week Tesla announced the solar roof, and it is ashamed to see that it is a tech firm who brought this into reality instead of architects. Architecture, for centuries, as a frontier of technological innovation and creation. There should be more architects starting to combine new technology and prototypes on future buildings.

Therefore I would like to propose my final project for physical computing in smart facade, to experiment the potential of applying physical computing in future building elements. There have been significant number of projects in architecture used ‘dynamic facade’ that the facade are formed by a modular system that panels can be folded, overlay, or flip to change the facade effect. However I would argue these are most likely to be ‘responsive’ or ‘adaptive’ design, which mainly focusing on how facade responds to changing environment such as solar radiation and temperature.

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Physical computing focuses on interaction between human and machine, especially, how to amplify our experience in such interaction. If the facade is so smart that it changing shapes according to the weather or lighting condition, that is automation, not interaction. Some projects did include an interaction piece in their design, so occupants can control and adjust the facade shape. However, I would further argue, control does not equal interaction, that there is still not a true interaction between the building elements with the occupants.

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In 2013, a London based design studio showed their interaction design of wall in a children hospital. Known as Nature Trail, the installation is a 50 meter (165 feet) long corridor that walls part of the Mittal Children’s Medical Centre at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. With 70 LED panels that house a total of 72,000 LEDs, the walls are triggered by motion sensors and reveal animated patterns in the shape of horses, deer, hedgehogs, birds, and frogs peeking through the foliage and trees. What they did here is truly an interaction design, but not really responsive to the ambience environment (it is a wall essentially…) comparing to dynamic facade.

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Therefore such two types of design converge at one question: can we create a smart building elements that both interactive and responsive? For prototyping, I decide to create a smart folding screen. Folding screen is an interior partition that originated from ancient China, that people used it as a indoor or outdoor furniture. The size and number of fold various, so it is between a typical furniture and building elements. I love the idea of folding screen because it is very mobile and flexible to use, the screen itself often considered as a piece of art. (Chinese painting below: Eighteen Scholars, Ming Dynasty [1368–1644])

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So now the idea is getting more clear: I want to design a smart folding screen which responds to ambient variable by photocell sensor and detect people with motion sensor. It shift shapes of the panel/cell to create different shade and patterns by using servo. I will take inspirations from both dynamic facade and interactive wall, especially the modular design of panel and use geometry mechanism to reduce number of servo.

For the material, I choose acrylic due to its transparency and cuttable by laser. In reality it has been used as window elements, lighting fixture, furniture, and building facade, therefore I think acrylic would be a good choice on material.

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