responsive envelopes: Material System Prototype (Air + thermal energy)

Pneusystems explores the potential for formal, material and operational principles found in biological cellular pneumatic systems to be translated into models for lightweight adaptive building envelopes that operate through low energy and non-mechanically actuated systems. While early pioneering work examining the pneu as a biological model for architectural translation was primarily limited to the development of large inflatable and tensile building assemblies, new computational tools and advances in the material science of membranes recommend a re-visitation of specific biological instances of pneus as models for translation to adaptive building envelope prototypes. The formal, material and operational possibilities for pneus to function as deep building skins imbued with environmental response, interaction and intelligence is proposed through the study of several specific models from biology, translated into active architectural geometries. The capabilities explored are: variable aperture control, variable air exchange, variable thermal control and binary actuation.

Typology Material System Prototype (Air)
date 2013
location University of Michigan
scale 200 sf full-scale prototypes
scope Design and prototyping of a kinetic, sensing, environment-responsive envelope system. Research includes lightweight deformable structures, cellular aggregation geometries, environmental sensing and responsiveness, pneumatic actuation, material research and fabrication logics.


Partners Kathy Velikov & Geoffrey Thün
Team Collaborators Mary O’Malley [project coordinator], Eric Meyer, Nick Safley, Christina Kull, Dan McTavish, Wiltrud Simbuerger, John Hilmes, Michael Sanderson, Yunzhi Ou [design and prototyping assistants]Dr. Lars Junghans [thermal modeling], Dr. Jerome Lynch [sensing networks], Dr. Satinder Singh Baveja [machine learning] CCA 333 Summer Studio 2013, with Benjamin Rice (Nervous Ether installation)


  • Tex-FAB PLASTICITY Competition, Honorable Mention 2013


  • Research Through Making V, University of Michigan | March - April 2014