Designed Porous Media

How do trees get their shape, and why is this shape so similar to other natural forms, such as river deltas, lungs, and lighting strikes? Focus on the form too hard and you will miss the process that generated it. Instead think of the currents that flow through the form and how those currents interact with the surrounding medium. Think of a tree as a splaying bundle of pipes, whose purpose is to transport water from the ground to the atmosphere. In return for the water (and with the help of sunlight), the pipe-bundle extracts carbon dioxide from the air, which it then uses as a construction material to add new pipes and build the existing pipes taller. The deeper the pipe-bundle penetrates and splays into the atmosphere, the wetter the atmosphere gets. So a tree is an upward flow of water, supported by a material made from the thin air that surrounds it, and plastered into a shape that reads as a physical transcript of the amplifying communication between two media — the ground and the air.

This course is about reconfiguring our materials and buildings to better orchestrate the currents of heat and mass that flow through them. The starting point is to recognize that the space we inhabit is not empty, but filled with a fluid called air and streams of photons from different places. The first two sessions are a mix of lectures and exercises to get you thinking about the inner architecture of materials and the sculpting of thermal flows. The next five sessions are dedicated to different types of designed porous media, with a mix of contextual and technical lectures, class exercises, and short ‘hands-on’ assignments, employing a variety of imaging, analysis and testing techniques to understand how each of the material-technologies work. After Spring Break, we begin a whole-class design project — a self-regulating and habitable ‘organ’ for a desert climate, which works because of the way it combines the different designed porous media.