Inflatable Skin

The goal of this prototype study was to produce a dynamically changing skin system, capable of reconfiguring in response to the forces applied by a fluid environment while maintaining occupiable volumes.

A series of small study models were created to understand the incorporation of inflation techniques within a dynamic structural frame. Immediately, it was clear that the air distribution needed to be incorporated within the frame system to achieve a dynamic movement uninhibited by a ducting system.

It was possible to look at the tubular distribution of air as structure itself, creating a hierarchy in the frame system, similar to an HVAC branching system. The second observation of inputting air into the frame system was the bending, flexing and reconfiguration occurring when the air was not evenly distributed. This observation was critical because it allowed us to use the air pressure, as well as the change in buoyant state, to create curvature within the system. The final prototype incorporated a version of a scissor structural frame previously studied, but with some variation. In using the air duct as a central spine, the expansion and contraction of the frame needed to occur without constricting air movement in any way. This was achieved by allowing the ducting to act as the datum from which the system expanded and contracted, not just in one direction, but three dimensionally.

The planning and construction of the model involved a full set of construction documents and a team of five to construct. The prototype was constructed of latex, polypropylene, styrene, flexible tubing, steel and compressed air. The construction of the skin system incorporated expandable components, flexible connections and most importantly, a series of compression springs which aided the components to return to their deflated state quickly after the air pressure was released.

Testing of the prototype resulted in a successful expansion and contraction of the structural frame while the pressure of the inflated bubbles created twisting, turning and enclosure in the skin system.

Architectural Association School of Architecture: Masters of Architecture