Deployable Surfaces: Dynamic Performance Through Multi-Material Architectures

Rapidly deployable structures have been with us since nomadic people used sticks and fabric to create the first tents. Out of these beginnings, deployable structures have evolved, and are now used as shelters for disaster relief, pop-up spaces for retail or entertainment, and for aerospace applications such as solar sails or antennae. The overarching goal is to achieve near instantaneous-opening through processes of unfolding.

In the 60s and 70s, there was an explosion of interest in the idea of instant architecture.  Lightweight fabric structures – sometimes inflated through air pressure – were realized at vast scale for World Fairs and Olympic Games.  The burgeoning space program demanded mechanized structures that could open automatically when released from a compact state within the launch vehicle. These two approaches – fabric and linkage based – were the main design paradigms for deployable structures for decades.

But another approach has arrived from a different direction – the ancient art of origami. With their ground-breaking work researchers such as Erik Demaine and Tomohiro Tachi have established the rules of folding as a universal design medium, now the basis to create new drugs, structures from DNA, and to make myriad devices from pop-up machines to shape-shifting robots.
Inflatable systems have also advanced well beyond simple balloon-like forms. Using a combination of elastomeric, flexible, and inextensible material compositions, devices can be physically programmed to perform multi-stage linear, bending, and twisting motions. Under precise digital control these techniques, are leading to new applications including soft robotics, structural air-beams, and deformable metamaterials.

Taken together, advances in the use of origami and inflatable multi-material devices offer a new design paradigm for rapidly deployable structures. The critical next step is to bring these techniques up to the architectural scale.

Deployable Surfaces is a project-based seminar focused on the creation of next-generation foldable and inflatable structures.  The goal of the course is for student-based teams to develop and deploy full-scale structures utilizing the design and fabrication techniques taught in the seminar.  Classes will take place both at the GSD and at the Autodesk BUILD space, offering access to a wide range of fabrication equipment. Lectures will provide essential design and engineering principles and students will advance their design explorations through a sequence of structured assignments.  In addition to in-class lectures, we will conduct lab sections covering a range of techniques including: Soft robotic actuators; Masking, Sealing, Connecting; Laminate Design; Computational Meshing and Patterning