This blog documents an investigation of responsive building facades conducted by the Yazdani Studio as part of the Cannon Design research initiative. The primary focus is to explore systems which allow individual surface components to vary in their responses to particular local stimuli. We refer to these systems as Paratonic Surfaces, derived from the biological term used to describe adaptive movement in plants.

Historically, various environmental, social, functional, and contextual considerations have always worked to inform the expression of the building facade. Typically,  this has produced orientation-based, uniformly articulated facades that deploy singular, one-size-fits-all  methods of responsive cladding and enclosure.   Our investigation seeks to examine an emerging model of responsiveness rooted in a more localized, component-level approach resulting in finely tuned or adaptable surfaces.

Through this inquiry we hope to answer the following questions:

If every point on a building is unique, can a building’s performance be optimized by tuning each panel on a façade to its unique position/ orientation?

Can emerging digital fabrication technologies make this level of customization affordable for a typical project?

With the need to manage so many unique components, traditional modeling techniques are impractical. Our models need to be generative; derived from a set of rules and priorities. What tools are available to support this way of working? What are their strengths? What are the drawbacks?

How do we measure performance and quantify gains ? What tools are available to perform this kind of analysis?

How do we rationalize these complex arrays? Can we optimize and simplify panel variation to create efficient and buildable systems?

How do we document these systems to communicate with fabricators, estimators, and builders?

Due to the broad nature of the topic, we plan to take a diagnostic approach by conducting a series of quasi-experiments which both measure the effectiveness of a particular response and analyze the tools used in the process.

This process  is outlined below.

Step 1 . Conceptual Design
A pattern, an image, or an abstract theoretical concept is used to produce a design direction. Working under this constraints enables us to simulate the exceptions, irregularities and conflicts between building performance and design initiatives that exist in every project.

Step 2 . Modeling
Concepts are modeled using parametric/ generative techniques . Adaptability is embedded in the system and panels are “flexed” in response to various influences. Three general modeling approaches will be tested:
– BIM based modeling (Autodek Revit)
– Animation/ simulation based modeling (Autodesk 3Dstudio Max)
– Scripting based modeling (Grasshopper, .Net, Processing, Arduino)

Step 3 . Analysis and Tuning
Performance is measured when possible using various analysis software such as Ecotect and EnergyPlus. Systems are tuned based on the results.

Step 4 . Rationalization, Mockups, and Documentation
In the final step, we test our capacity to rationalize the systems, output files for manufacturing, and create physical models and simulations.

We diagram this process here.