Smart Buildings Breathe and Blink

Lance Hosey, of Atmo, and Soo-in Yang and David Benjamin, of the Living, have designed responsive building systems that exploit the inherent properties of materials through biomimetics. Both teams are working toward a similar goal: independence from the power grid and mechanically produced energy. Hosey's Smart Shade employs the thermodynamics of zinc and steel to control the amount of sunlight passing into a building's interior. Yang and Benjamin's Living Glass uses elastic shape memory alloy (SMA) wires to control the level of carbon dioxide in a room.
Hosey began to explore the possibility for a building to respond to its immediate environment while working at William McDonough's firm. "During one of our conversations Bill proposed that a building could be considered alive in the sense that it is self-regulating and adapts to changing external conditions," he says. The blind consists of a composite layer of zinc and steel, two metals with different thermal tendencies. Expansion and contraction of these sandwiched materials in response to temperature cause the blinds to curl up in winter (allowing more sunlight in) and curve down in summer (allowing less).

Columbia graduates Yang and Benjamin are developing a window system that monitors the amount of carbon dioxide in a room through sensors that are arranged horizontally on a pliable plastic window. Modeled after the gills of a fish, they're activated by a small waft of carbon dioxide, the sensors send an electric current through the wires, which are made of nickel titanium and encased in silicone, causing them to contract and pull open slits etched in the window. Fresh air flows inside the room until there is equilibrium with the air outside, at which time the electric current subsides, the slits close, and the wires resume their original shape. Both systems are just prototypes, and future versions of both may integrate flexible solar cells and lithium ion batteries to make the system energy independent. ::We-Make-Money-Not-Art via ::Metropolis