Ambitious Intelligent Membrane Architecture

A High-Quality, Interactive and Adaptable Space Solution

Diploma Thesis, 2009

91 Pages, Grade: 1,0




1.1 Innovation and Improvement
1.2 Communication and Education
1.3 Experience, Education, and Reflection
1.4 Adjustment and Flexibility of Daily Habits
1.5 Summary

2.1 Textile and Membrane Architecture
2.2 Building Typologies, their Construction System and Architectural Elements
2.3 Technological Reasons
2.4 Environmental Reasons
2.5 Aesthetic Reasons
2.6 Social and Economical Reasons
2.7 Thematic Consolidation and Methodical Approach

3.1 Terminology and Dimensions
3.2 Functionality
3.3 Geometric Programmable Structure and Supply SystemTM
3.4 Adaptive Functional Surface
3.5 Sensible Intelligent Space


4.1 Parametric Computer Model

4.2 Parameters and the Influence of Contextual Conditions

4.3 Physical Models

4.4 Mock-up

5.1 Singular Unit
5.2 Singular Spatial Cells
5.3 Connected Cell Structures
5.4 Networks

6.1 Art Installation in Tate Modern [London] and/or the MoMA [New York] 79
6.2 Extension of the Polar Station 'Neumeyer III' and of the International Space Station [IRS]

7.1 Abbreviations


9.1 Chapter 1
9.2 Chapter 2
9.3 Chapter 3
9.4 Chapter 4
9.5 Chapter 5
9.6 Chapter 6



Within the framework of my studies and design work at the Institute for Lightweight Construction and Conceptual Design of Stuttgart University, Prof. Dr. Sobek advised me to terminate my studies in the field of lightweight construction and textile construction at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. The findings from the design work showed that there is functional and aesthetical potential in the use of future textile materials for construction purposes. The so-called “intelligent membranes”, for example, can show new ways in the fields of construction, power supply and communication.

The main focus of the stay was the research and summarization of current development statuses of potential technologies, the elaboration of fields of application in architecture as well as drawing a connection to a realistic design project.

Prof. Nader Tehrani supervised and advised me kindly as a visiting student at the Department of Architecture. A convenient introduction at the Department was possible through a highly practical orientation, an open culture of discussion about actual main topics and the unconventional cross-linking. The highly qualified comments on methodological proceeding, the exchange with connected projects and the constant debate about the gained findings, supported and stimulated the development of the project. The interdisciplinary working Institutes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) additionally enabled a wide ranged presentation of the project and enriched it with discussions and criticisms through the Department of Material Science and the MediaLab. The numerous meetings, constant discussions and the high-qualified criticism of Prof. Nader Tehrani were supportive for the project and additionally motivated to ponder, to proceed and review the work. Therefore my sincere thanks.

My special thanks goes to Prof. Dr. Werner Sobek for his advise and expertise during my studies and for his support that in the first place brought a stay at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology into consideration.


The discussion about the human impact on the climate reveals the direct integration of action into global developments and the consequences of human lifestyle for the global ecosystem. Local ecosystems have been altered by the impacts of climate change, which in turn creates a heightened risk of worst-case weather events. It is necessary to expand the knowledge about the interconnections between natural and human systems and to act more sensibly in order to counter the consequences of misguided developments. Previous and present influences can't be revised. We have to adjust our daily routine to the realities of the present situation and reduce our prospective impact if we want to further improve our living conditions for the future.

Innovation and improvement, communication and education, adaptation and flexibility will be the key factors for a modern society. It is possible to realize, evaluate and enhance them on several levels. They accumulate fundamentally and their importance can be seen in Architecture and in the quality of our built environment, unlike many other fields of cultural study. Accordingly, how does architecture need to be developed, where must vision be highlighted and how can technologies be implemented?

1.1 Innovation and Improvement

The professional view of architecture has been focused on so-called sustainable architecture for the last years. If we understand sustainability merely as the usage of a regenerative system that persists in its essential characteristics, a far-reaching rethinking is necessary. Reducing and changing energy consumption during the expected useful lifecycle is not sufficient. In fact the ecological, economic and social legacy of architecture at large has to be considered; its qualities have to be strengthened and its negative impacts have to be reduced. Along with the careful choice of used materials, these new tactics should include the use of lightweight materials, structural lightweight constructions, lightweight system building, meaningful recycling and reuse, and foremost the creation of high-quality living spaces. These demands can only be fulfilled by architecture, which is able to adjust itself to the user's requirements, the society and the environment. Thus innovations, further developments and adaptability affect the quality, characteristics and haptics of a sensible and interactive architecture. The way discourse of sustainability asks for preservation and conservation is controversially opposed to that kind of architecture and also to the evolutionary methods of nature. Conserving and preserving current situations in order to reach the goals of climate protection and nature conservation needs to be rethought immediately. Today's fast pace and complexity that bears on developments and transitions, makes faster adaptability necessary for buildings as well. Temporary buildings made with textile and membrane architecture represent that in an impressive way already. The demand of research and development for a wide-ranging usage is certainly huge as especially the potential out of the area of communication and computer technology, which increased the dynamics of today's world, remains to be concretized and transposed for architecture.1,2,3

The accumulated developments and findings in communication and computer technology were largely in place at the end of the 20th century. Meanwhile, the laboratories around the world work on the next revolution. Chemistry, Biology and Genetics manifest their relevance and their potentials for innovations of the coming centuries.4,5

Society instead is not able to absorb those innovations as fast as science and engineering develops and offers them. Time is needed until new developments find their wide-range of applications and until society has learned to handle them adequately. The difference between technological complexity and the establishment of understanding and user friendliness becomes the most important factor for integration. As long as it is only experts with the corresponding background knowledge in their special field that can use the closely related innovations, the spreading to manifold application areas is slow and innovations can only partly show their excellence.6,7

1.2 Communication and Education

Computer technology enables the shifting of many applications into the virtual world. Faster processing, revision of failures and parallel handling are only some advantages of electronic data processing, which is an indispensable component of today's administrative practice. Together with the increasing impact of communication and computer technology arose the separation into the virtually dominated and the real observable parts of life for functions at work, ways of communication, entertainment program and leisure activities. To combine the advantages of both alternatives and to conventionalize their usage, it is necessary to resolve the separation between virtual and real elements of our life. Meanwhile, ubiquitous virtual reality needs to be integrated into real life and needs to be interlaced with daily routines. It is necessary to merge interfaces to the virtual elements of our life with our surroundings. Communication and entertainment equipment, the storage and the access to information will reach thereby the same quality level like direct social life as the handling of new media results in a ubiquitous part of real life.8,9

These new advantages and possibilities can be communicated and learnt with intuitive and sensible interfaces. The outsourcing and creation of characters on internet platforms like 'second life' or 'world of warcraft', network communities like 'facebook' or dynamic processes for groups like 'twitter' identify the desire to act out the virtual parts of life and to expand the latitude in virtual reality. Thus the integration into the ambience of life enhances the critical handling with new media, increases the competencies for threats as well as risks and connects the virtual life again with real social living.10

1.3 Experience, Education, and Reflection

In order to achieve an accelerated change of habits it is necessary to create an environment and space, which interacts with the user, which gives him feedback and experiences and thus continuously challenges and assists him. This kind of smart surrounding will lead to a faster and more wide-ranging reflection of living and working habits, their effects and consequences. Intelligent acting will be thus taught and supported from the outset.11

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Fig. 1.1 Network Society

1.4 Adjustment and Flexibility of Daily Habits

Human relation to technological innovations will develop in two opposite directions. On the one hand, there will be the assimilation of technology to the human body. Humans will evolve into cybernetic organisms, who wear sense cumulative technology on top as well as beneath the skin, in order to zoom the interface for virtual and real world as close as possible to the body. On the other hand, we will have the disposal of technology with direct connection to the body and a reflection on its abilities.

Both ways will prove their advantages in different niches. However, the present understanding of independent personality and unlimited life in the loneliness and the connected, technocratic assisted life in the dense and urban space will invert itself into an antagonism. Densely populated and urban areas will be able to use a surface dominated system as a spatial boundary and user interface of the smart surrounding. The bandwidth of optical data transmission and the ubiquitous intersections of the surrounded smart space will enable the cities to develop new hotspots and centers for the real-virtual life.

New intelligent fabrics that support the senses with technology however will assist the humans in isolation and connect them with the rest of the world.10

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Fig. 1.2 Experience and Recognition

1.5 Summary

Technological and theoretical innovations need a wider social integration and acceptance. The differences between science and society have to be decreased again and the knowledge and appliance needs to be expanded. Skepticism and the frustration potential of new applications can only be resolved with confidence-building measures and a user-friendly, simplified design of interfaces. The necessity for change of the surrounded spaces into a connected, smart and transparent platform is given and enables to integrate new technologies and assist the user step by step with innovations, further developments and transformations. The system serves thereby as boundary and room divider as well as provider of storage, user interfaces, and as a mediator and carrier for content, information and applications. The system analyses and evaluates the environmental conditions and user specific demands, adjusts the space depending on the influences and offers access to knowledge and the activities of the network society.

Context and content thereby replace dogmas and formalities and lead to a controllable and interactive architecture and to dynamic and adaptable spaces. The quality of architecture adjusts intuitively depending on environmental conditions, social and economical actualities and the demands of the individual user. This platform will lead us to a faster and unconventional adaptation of lifestyle and will reappraise technological and social innovations. Therefore a necessary first step is interdisciplinary and intercultural exchange of knowledge and experiences. The qualities, reasons and main focuses of those different areas are shown in the following chapter in order to identify the importance of a positive development.

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Fig. 1.3 Cybernetic Organisms as a result of technological Improvement?

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Fig. 1.4 Interaction with the surrounding and reaction of spaces [cf. Animation 1.1]


2.1 Textile and Membrane Architecture

The usage of textiles and membranes in architecture has a long history. Based on the tent constructions of the prehistoric peoples' nomadic living, via shadings and walls in ancient civilization, Gottfried Semper s early 19th century debate of the origin of architecture and the examination of operas and theaters, up to the contemporary usage of textiles as shadings, roofs and claddings for stadiums and public spaces that gained popularity with the work of Buckminster Fuller and Frei Otto.12,13

The multifunctional and overarching used term of “textile and membrane architecture” can be categorized in tensile structures, pneumatic structures, and non-structural applications.

Tensile structures are characterized by tension in cloths or cables and compression in beams. Bending loads are transferred into structural systems that allow only tension or compression in their system parts. The most commonly used materials are coated Glass Fiber Fabric, Ethylene-Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) foils, and stainless steel cables. Typologies that use tensile structures commonly are bridges, wide span roof structures for stadiums, public spaces and buildings in the transport sector.12,14

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Fig. 2.1 Tensile Constructions

Pneumatic Structures are characterized by air-pressure-stabilized components. The pressurized interior induces tension into the fabric or membrane and enables a stabilized system. The most frequently used materials are ETFE foils. Possible applications range from low-pressure dome-shaped roofs to high- pressure facades, roofs or shading elements that are mostly used in public and industrial buildings.12

Non-structural applications include the interior usage of screens, curtains, and covers, the usage of textiles for coulisses in theaters and operas, and characteristic patterns, ornaments and decorations that arise out of textile and membrane characteristics and which are connected with their usage.15

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Fig. 2.2 Pneumatic Constructions

In architecture, however, textiles still act as a niche product that have yet to become established for general usage. The everyday use of textiles and membranes as clothes and the less examined use as upholstery, cover, and curtain in interior design implies an extensive acceptance and demand for soft, comfortable, and changeable surroundings.

Will it be possible to extend the use of textiles and membranes in architecture and to use them within different kinds of typologies? First, though, are there fundamental reasons that make it necessary to discuss the topic of textile architecture?16

Fig. 2.3 Additional Applications

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2.2 Building Typologies, their Construction System and Architectural Elements

Fig. 2.4 Commercial Usage - Office Buildings

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Fig. 2.5 Commercial Usage - Convention Centers

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Fig. 2.6 Commercial Usage - Hotels

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Fig. 2.7 Commercial Usage - Sport and Leisure

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Fig. 2.8 Commercial Usage - Shopping

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Fig. 2.9 Residential - Apartments und Condominiums

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Fig. 2.10 Residential - Town Houses

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Fig. 2.11 Residential - Single Houses

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Fig. 2.12 Residential - Villas

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Fig. 2.13 Residential - Temporary Housing


1 Lesch, H. in Abenteuer Forschung Vol. 1 (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, 2008).

2 De Botton, A. The architecture of happiness. 1st American edn, (Pantheon Books, 2006).

3 Nocera, D. J. in Masdar City (MIT - Cambridge, 2008).

4 Shi, D. Introduction to biomaterials. (Tsinghua University Press ; World Scientific, 2006).

5 Shi, D. Functional thin films and functional materials : new concepts and technologies. (Springer : Tsinghua University Press, 2003).

6 Maeda, J. The laws of simplicity. (MIT Press, 2006).

7 Trasi, N. AD : interdisciplinary architecture. (Wiley-Academy, 2001).

8 Mitchell, W. J. City of bits : space, place, and the infobahn. (MIT Press, 1995).

9 Mitchell, W. J. E-topia : "urban life, Jim--but not as we know it". (MIT Press, 1999).

10 Mitchell, W. J. Me++ : The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. (MIT PRESS, 2003).

11 Ullmer, B. A. & Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Architecture. Program In Media Arts and Sciences. Tangible interfaces for manipulating aggregates of digital information, (2002).

12 Koch, K.-M. & Forster, B. Bauen mit Membranen der innovative Werkstoff in der Architektur. (Prestel, 2004).

13 Fuller, R. B., Krausse, J. & Lichtenstein, C. Your private sky : discourse. (Lars Müller ; Museum of Design, 2001).

14 Beylerian, G. M., Dent, A., Quinn, B. & ConneXion, M. Ultra Materials innovative Materialien verändern die Welt. (Prestel, 2007).

15 Quinn, B. The fashion of architecture. (Berg, 2003).

16 Hodge, B. & Mears, P. Skin and bones : parallel practices in fashion and architecture. (Thames & Hudson, 2006).

Excerpt out of 91 pages


Ambitious Intelligent Membrane Architecture
A High-Quality, Interactive and Adaptable Space Solution
University of Stuttgart  (Institute of Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design / Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Architectural Design)
Architecture and Urban Planning
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
10683 KB
Membrane Architecture, Architecture, Intelligent, Adaptive, Smart Home, Textile, Space
Quote paper
Fabian Christopher Schmid (Author), 2009, Ambitious Intelligent Membrane Architecture, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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