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Adaptive Building Skins

Chicago, Illinois

In 2009, as part of the award winning LumenHAUS single family housing project, the Virginia Tech Center for Design Research developed an adaptive building skin that directed prevailing breezes, naturally illuminated interior space, and modulated thermal gain. As the team expands its research into the areas of net-zero high-density housing, Tim Frank is working with the VT-CDR to reconsider such an advanced building skin, taking into account the limitations of area that stem from higher densities. The configuration of this second generation system is being derived by a combination of digital modeling, simulation and prototyping across a shared platform. Luminous, sonic, and thermal parameters drive the instantiation of the system, while digital fabrication processes test the constructability and operability of the iterations. The resultant proof of concept models and initial prototypes were exhibited at the 2012 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York City where the work received the Editor’s Choice Award from Metropolis Magazine.

Chandarli Residence

Izmir, Turkey

Located along the Aegean coastline in Turkey, this vacation residence resides 45 minutes north of Izmir in a small 12th century town named Chandarli.  With the summer design high temperatures if this area of around 100 degrees F partnered with 10% cloud cover during those months, the strong prevailing breezes became an important characteristic of study in developing a design that sought to maximize its passive summer cooling potential. A range of technologies were used to examine the characteristics of airflow as influenced by the design of the dwelling spaces on the site. CFD simulations and wind tunnel tests were used to model the interaction of the prevailing airflow characteristics with the proposed spatial enclosure, defined as a series of boundary conditions.  Employing a subterranean space allowed the house to benefit from summer earth cooling, allowing the home to stay near average annual temperature during those months. This space was used to hold cooler air and promote a higher rate of air exchange within the more exposed spaces above ground.

Tensegrity Aviary

Reynoldstown, Atlanta

This installation commissioned by the AIA aimed to celebrate the BeltLine’s ground-breaking urban strategy that increases density within the city while also restoring the wildlife habitats that were devastated by 20th century sprawl.  Instead of resisting the ecological forces present within the place, the project questioned whether design could achieve a form of longevity through the embodiment of such conditions. Collaborating with Chip Clark, a modified tensegrity aviary was developed for the BeltLine that served as a place of cohabitation between local bird species and wildlife enthusiast. The lightweight cloud comprised of compressive bird feeders and tensile bird perches floated overhead, projecting over 75’ beyond its small 5’ x 10’ footprint, mapping the local system of ecology onto a unique force-expressive system.  Finite element analysis models and full scale functional prototypes were used to test the performance of this new system which enabled the structural dynamics of the system to be calibrated prior to being transported to the site for final installation.


Blacksburg, Virginia

This installation comprised of recycled plastic water bottles was developed for the Atlanta Dogwood Festival’s Eco-Village children’s program and the Tall Oaks Montessori outreach program in 2011.  Through the re-use of bottles generated by the campus of Virginia Tech, the goal of the design was to playfully contribute to the awareness of everyday sustainable efforts for young children.  A paper shell served to position bottles relative to one another while the stacked bottles provided structure and rigidity to the shell membrane.  Aided by solar illuminance simulations, the effective volume of light within a park clearing served to generate the installation’s form.  The resultant stacked bottle surface created a light-filled play space for children to move through.  Light danced through the clear bottles onto the translucent paper shell creating dynamic shifts of tone on the inside of the skin.  As the sun moved across the sky, the installation would glow within the tree shadowed park calling attention to a good day’s work and the latent potential of material reuse.

Re-Pairing Terrain

West End, Atlanta

This installation commissioned by the Atlanta Beltline Partnership sought to call positive attention to Atlanta’s abandoned BeltLine rail in order to transform it from a place of debris and detachment to a place of communal connection and exchange. The aim was to create an occupiable space that improved community connectivity and invited the restoration of character for the neighborhoods surrounding it. This project also served to demonstrate the need for an adequate number of pedestrian friendly public green-spaces along the BeltLine that could be easily accessed using sustainable modes of the transportation.  Using computer simulations, shadows created by BeltLine earth banks were mapped onto a five thousand square foot area along the path. The data output from these simulations were physically represented by a matrix of vertically oriented slender fir columns installed along a five foot grid within the designated area. The resulting field of columns registered both the solar effect of the earth banks and the surface that once connected the contiguous neighborhood areas.

Sense & Sustain-ability

Studio Profile

The studio was formed in 2005 while working through a series of design experiments that explored the emerging issues of technology and sustainability in architecture. Through these early experiments we examined how the use of digital modeling and computational simulation could lead to simpler and smarter sustainable design decisions. Today, as our studio continues to grow, we still hold a digitally informed sustainable practice of architecture in the highest regard. It is this expertise that most distinguishes the studio’s work partnered with the unwavering commitment to fulfill a clients needs with the most innovative and environmentally sensitive architecture. 

We value the genuine characteristics of each individual client; we take their places very seriously; and we believe that good architecture is one that intertwines the genuine client with the depth of their place. (Images: Cloudland Residence, MODA, 2010)