ARCH 4101/4102/5101/5116/7113
Matter Design Computation: Human-Centered Adaptive Architecture in the UAE

Four images of woven structures or material

From left, Lumen detail (Jenny Sabin Studio); 3D printed chitosan (2016 option studio and Sabin Design Lab); Lumen; fiber-winding end effector; robotic fabrication process involving two interacting six-axis robots. ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart.

  • Instructor: Jenny Sabin
  • Time: M, W, F 12:20–4:25 p.m.
  • Location: TBA
  • Credits: 6

Frei Otto also took up the notion of self-generation and the analogy between biology and building, but eschewed the imitation of nature in favor of working directly in materials to produce models that were at once natural and artificial. At the same time, he also eschewed their translation into a universalizing mathesis. Rather than focusing on form or formula, he took the idea of analogy in an entirely different direction, preferring to stage experiments in which materials find their own form. ~ Detlef Mertins

  • Sabin Lab senior personnel: David Rosenwasser
  • Robot: SULLA; ABB IRB 4600; payload capacity = 45kg; 2.05m reach and 6 axis rotation


How might buildings behave more like organisms responding to and adapting to their built environments?

In the not so distant future, materials will not just be elements and things in buildings, they will generate immersive spaces, acting upon and responding to affordances in our built environments. Like the cells in our bodies, sensors and imagers will learn and adapt, making materials not only smart but also aware, sensate, and beautiful. We will be able to tune our spaces, to personalize architecture.

This studio will explore current and future applications of human-centered adaptive architecture in extreme climates for outdoor public programming, including parks, beach activation, recreation, and play. To do this, we will incorporate digital and robotic fabrication with an emphasis on user feedback through handcraft and external bioinspired datasets and models. We will focus on materially-directed generative fabrication inspired by natural systems, specifically natural fiber and textile composite structures (e.g. bone, sea sponges, plant fibers, cellular systems). The studio aims to advance materials research and robotic digital fabrication through questions that probe the economical, ecological, and cultural production of complex built form in extreme climate conditions. While nonlinear concepts are widely applied in analysis and generative design in architecture, they have not yet convincingly translated into the material realm of fabrication and construction. How have these advancements impacted material practice in architecture, engineering, and construction at economic, technological, and cultural levels? How might we address these issues during the design process? The main thrust of this studio concerns the evolution of material and digital complexity through radical experimentation in robotic fabrication and digital handcraft with the following themes: static and interactive robotic drawing; materials research; natural fiber-based systems and composite structures; additive manufacturing and custom end effectors and sensors; component and part fabrication; 1:1 scale prototypes; and structural elements.

The expected outcome for the studio is for students to develop an integrated architectural proposal and program for the Makers District beach activation project through materially-directed generative fabrication and the production of 1:1 scale prototypes and structural elements (canopy, column, tower, etc.). The final project must represent a thorough design idea documented by material investigations, models, prototypes, drawings, tectonic strategy and sections, overall and partial views, and diagrams illustrating the concept and its development into a coherent architectural proposal.


Cable nets based on the high strength-to-weight ratio of the spider web; conditioning systems modeled after termite mounds; superhydrophobic coatings based on lotus leaves; pneumatic structures inspired by soap bubbles and foams; surface structures abstracted from the exoskeletons of radiolarian; structural color change engineered from the 3D geometry and structure of butterfly wings; and towers generated and engineered from the distribution of stress forces observed in the femur bone. Architects, scientists, and structural engineers have always looked to nature and the sciences for inspiration, and each profession demands collaboration across a broad range of disciplines. Clearly, biologists and architects share similar concerns, and this is best reflected in the relationships that have emerged between their respective fields. Models borrowed from architects — such as tensegrity structures and geodesic domes — have led to radical new insights into how living systems — such as cells, tissues, and whole organisms — are assembled and function, as well as to a new understanding of how the microecology of cells influences the genome. Similarly, models borrowed from biology, particularly regarding self-organization, metadata structures, and the emergence of complex, non-linear global systems from simple local rules of organization have led to radical new forms and structural organizations in architectural design. Examples such as these demonstrate how attentive architectural and scientific practices can be to each other — particularly within architecture and biology, which are constantly challenged to reinvent and question themselves in a manner similar to the historic avant-gardes, or in the face of new technologies.

Site and Travel

This studio anticipates a weeklong field trip from February 16 to 22 to visit sites in Abu Dhabi and perhaps Dubai. We will work with local developers and architects, including IMKAN/Soulful Places. Enriched Lives. Our site is a beach area within the Makers District, a mixed-use development strategically located in Reem Island in Abu Dhabi, across from the cultural hub of Saadiyat Island, home to the Zayed National Museum, Louvre Abu Dhabi and Guggenheim Abu Dhabi. We will focus on the waterfront activation development.

*500 field trip contribution per student is required.

View a PDF of this class description.