Solar-Activated Canopy Creates Interactive Environment That Responds to Light (Video)

Can architecture behave like a self-regulating organism? That is the intriguing question that some architects are posing, in exploring how architecture might someday evolve into something that can automatically respond and adapt as a massive, "self-aware" built ecosystem.

For the time being, architects and designers continue to probe how that responsive architecture might look and feel like. Seen over at Dezeen, Ithaca, New York based Jenny Sabin Studio (previously) created this winning entry for this year's outdoor installation at MoMA PS1, as part of the annual Young Architects Program that has designers from all over the world submitting sustainable design ideas for an temporary summer pavilion (previous winners included a compostable mushroom tower, a giant water-purifying sculpture and a spiky, air-purifying object).

Recently completed just in time for the museum's summer activities, Sabin's Lumen installation is made up of recycled textiles, and special "photo-luminescent and solar active yarns" invented by Sabin that can absorb, emit light and change colour. Here's the concept explained:

The yarns are woven in a network-like structure, using a seamless weaving technology developed by Sabin in collaboration with Shima Seiki, a garment manufacturer that specializes in seam-free knitting technology. The individual cells are knitted by machine, and are assembled together in the installation.

Lumen's solar canopy uses over 1,000,000 yards of digitally knitted fiber to create a semi-shaded space for visitors, filtering light and providing cooling via an integrated misting system. The webbed installation also incorporates woven tubes or "stalactites" suspended from the canopy, as well as 100 robotically-woven recycled spool stools and a series of free-standing metal structures held with ropes that hold it in tension and compression. The whole system is interactive, Sabin writes:

This environment offers spaces of respite, exchange, and engagement as a misting system responds to visitors’ proximity, activating fabric stalactites that produce a refreshing micro-climate. Families of robotically woven recycled spool chairs reveal informal messages and conversations through hydro-chromic materials. It is an open responsive system featuring digitally knitted and robotically woven lightweight, high-performing, formfitting, and adaptive materials. Lumen is a feminine form that offers luminous interiorities, informal networks, social fabrics, and fibrous assemblages that are pliable, transformative, and playful.

The colour-changing solar canopy is conceived of as a network of smaller "cells" networking with its neighbours to form larger surfaces. The stools and stalactites can be touched, and change colours depending on density of bodies, heat, and sunlight, creating an environment that merges biology, pattern, engineering and human interaction together and reacts to light levels both during the day and night.

Lumen presents an interesting approach to the question of how a responsive built environment might look and feel like, drawing from all these disciplines and merging them into an installation that will no doubt delight visitors to the museum. Lumen will be up from June 29 until September 4 at MoMA PS1. Read more over at Jenny Sabin Studio.