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Rethink “Transition” to Unleash A New Kind of Design Fluidity

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © phoosh | Flickr

As new emerging technologies surface, the idea of “transition” will take on entirely new form. Not only will “transition” continue to exist between building materials (like you see in buildings today), but “transition” will also be present within a material’s properties — changing the very nature of how a particular material behaves at any given time.

For instance, smart materials will be able to change in real time as certain variables like temperature, light or stress trigger them. Similarly, new sensing technologies will come together to yield smart environments where ubiquitous computing is tuned to give occupants a more personalized experience.

Furthermore, as nanotechnology and biomimetic systems rise into the forefront, you as an architect will need to consistently rethink how building materials typically function — by building for them from the bottom up.

The “rules” behind designing for material behavior are changing and new smart material systems will give you a new kind of flexibility which you can optimize by taking both function and form to entirely new levels.

A key to doing this is to rethink your notion of design “transition”.

A Systems Approach to Designing with Building Materials

The biomimicry expert, Janine Benyus, says it best as she states that “The material is the system“. You see, it is within materials that we as designers can unleash new forms and functions to optimize our buildings — making them more sustainable, healthy, meaningful and beautiful.

By thinking of building materials down to the nano- scale, your design decisions as an architect will involve more of a “systems” way of thinking as opposed to the, as I have heard Janine Benyus call it, more typical “layered” approach to solving design problems.

Use “transition” as a way to unlock problems within an existing design system and as a way to capture inspiration from external forces that will trigger and react to your built environment. Think of how your occupant will experience your space, in all of its dimensions, and then ask yourself to rethink “transition” as you design.

To get you started, here are three questions to ask yourself:

1. If materials within your building’s design could “move” in real-time, how would you want them to move and why? Think aesthetics, function, efficiency, sustainability and human comfort. (As if your materials could gain “super-powers”, think beyond what materials today can do.)

2. What would be the resulting effect of such transient material “movements”? What new forms and functions would they allow? How could they help or hurt your occupant’s experience or the surrounding natural environment?

3. Is there a way to incorporate new transient materials to not only strengthen your building’s weak spots (design challenges) — but to ultimately strengthen the building as a whole (design opportunities)? What would your materials need to be able to “move” in the way you want? Think self-actuating, kinetics, weathering, interactivity, adaptation and so on.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

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Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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