Coloniatecne – Progress

Coloniatecne – Day 4

Nature’s Toolbox: Biodiversity, Art, and Invention Show features Dissipative System by Charles Lee


Charles Lee, USA

Dissipative System


Digital prints, 23.63 x 31.5 inches

Thermochromatic tile wall installation, 46.5 x 27 inches

Courtesy of the artist and Bios Design Collective

The Dissipative System is a study into possible materials and construction techniques for a new biomimetic building. The house in this illustrated model uses a skin of thermo-chromatic tiles to regulate heat and curved smart solar control glass to regulate light transmission. Glazed ceramic cladding, such as the tiles on display, is used for the interior and exterior of the shell. The coated ceramic becomes lighter in high temperatures to reflect more light and darker in cool temperatures to absorb more heat—a system similarly seen in nature. In many color-changing species, including fishes, reptiles, amphibians, and crustaceans, temperature influences the distribution of pigment in cells. The resulting darkening or lightening aids heat absorption and reflection to help maintain the animal’s temperature.

The Field Museum text:
“Reptiles change color to control body temperature. The pigment melanin colors the skin of most animals—including humans. Reptiles can expand or contract melanin within individual cells. When melanin expands, skin darkens and absorbs heat; when it contracts, skin lightens and reflects heat. To absorb more heat, snakes flatten their bodies and lie perpendicular to the sun’s rays. At night, they coil tightly to retain heat. (Imagine buildings that change color and shape!)”
— Alan Resetar
Collection Manager,

Division of Amphibians & Reptiles,

The Field Museum

 Go see the show at the Field Museum in Chicago
A special thanks to Randy Rosenberg, Zorona Bosnic and Alesha Colberg Martinez for the support and opportunity
Find out more about Artworks For Change

ImageTile DiagramFinal

Design Studies Sculpture Studies and Undeveloped Competitions

Posted by Charles Lee.  These are a few images from old studies and projects that I have wanted to share for awhile.  My favorite are the Monumental scale 3d printed sculptures from the BIOS Design Node Series for the city of San Jose.  A Photobioreactor Pavilion also for the same as well as the idea of reused boat sails to create giant windmill sculptures.  Some topological studies.  A concept I played around with for Evolo Skyscraper about re-purposed Oil Rigs that turn into Autonomous community Rigscrapers. A sculpture competition entry for a police station where golden shields form a column to protect the  Pillar of Laws.  There are some Vasari Wind studies for Coloniatechne.  There a sculptural wall proposal for a shortlisted competition at the Denver International Airport. There are some renderings of a residential competition in Dallas that Chris Chalmers and his team submitted a few years ago for Re:Visions. There are some test renders of Canopies for the AIA re:use Canopy using Recycled Newspapers and one with Recycled Magazines.  Mostly it was all a bunch of fun and I thought they made nice images to share.

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ColoniaTecne Approved for Design Development-Invited To Group Exhibition in Seattle Gallery

BIOS Design Collective was invited to present some recent work and we thought this would be a great opportunity to share our latest design of ColoniaTecne our project that will be in the San Jose 2012 Biennial. This is one of the boards created for the group show at The Art On The Ridge Gallery in Seattle Washington. The project is an interactive pavilion that will engage the public through site and sound. The person experiencing the project will move through a “net” of sensors that interpret movement, sound and proximity and re-interpret that information as a display of light and sound. ColoniaTecne will react to its environment and create a new environment through interpretation, there by changing the paradigm of a typical structure from environmental control to environmental responsiveness. This project takes systemic cues from the cooperative nature of corral reefs. In corral reefs many individuals work in unison (coral polyps) to create the overall reef. Each individual responds to environmental factors that affect the final reef structure. Environmental factors include heat, light, food etc.

Latest renderings of the the project showing a more detailed understanding of connections and construction.

Two scaled models were also made for the exhibition. These models show our latest idea about structural bracing throughout the form. The waffle system is doubled with one on top of the other creating a triangulation between the two systems. This allows us visual complexity through simple design principles.

Formations Workshop 2011 – Revit Conceptual Tools

California College of the Arts has invited Charles Lee to give a workshop for the yearly set of instructional classes called Formations 2011 .  The workshop will be given with Co-Instructors from Autodesk with a focus on Revit Conceptual Tools.  For more information and to register go to . Here is a version of the photobioreactor sculpture and an ETFE Panel Study generated in Vasari 2011


SJ01- New Conceptual Pavillions

This is new iteration for our ongoing study into ColoniaTechne. The project that was selected to be in the SJ01-2012 art exhibition. In this first study I was thinking that the pavilion could be made out of strands of some inexpensive, durable and fully recyclable material. The members would take the compression and tension like a net or membrane structure. This would have the advantage of being light and hopefully strong.

This was made in grasshopper through the blending of a couple of simple definitions. First there is the surface from curves, then Diagrid from surface and the image sampler, and lastly project to surface. The idea being that the circles represent interactive components on the skin of the pavilion, and that skin and component relationship can be adaptive to differing criteria.


the next test is really geared towards a larger project or venue. Last year Charlie and I got to the final round of a competition for  Denver International Airport. Although we didn’t win (we lost by 1 point!) it started me thinking about larger scale projects with different criteria for aesthetic evaluation. This is a study of a sculptural installation based on the work of Erwin Hauer. The diffuse light qualities and the structural integrity of the overall piece are something pulled from investigations into Hauer’s work. 

Scale Pavillion

This is the inside of the Scale Pavilion. The hope is that this temporary structure would sustain itself once fabricated. The PV affixed scales would provide any energy needed. The open shaded space would work well as a temporary respite from very warm climates like San Jose or Phoenix. This is of course derivative on a biological/ morphological level to many creatures that exist in arid hot climates.

I enjoy the process of making, both digitally and physically. I hope this image which is taken from a line drawing shows some of the complexity in the project. That part of the designing is my favorite, when I am less critical of a project but really thinking about how the project will be built. This project was created mostly with Paneling Tools from Rajaa Issa ( Thank you! click here: and some of my own add-on techniques.

Ultimately the question of aesthetics and this type of project must come up. For me it is important to see a project through to a certain stage before self-evaluation can really begin. If I as a designer start to evaluate to early the creative process can become stifled and tendency towards style can lead down a very wrong path. Having reached a part of process that I am now comfortable with I can evaluate this project. I think literally it is not beautiful but the idea is very clear and that is a beautiful. With more refinement this may turn out…

posted by Jess Austin

Disoriented Strands


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 


This project is an exploration of Statics vs. Statistics. That is to say it is a refutation of the ideal “truss” structure, which is statically determinate, in favor of alternatives based on a logic of statistical probability. While the logic of the truss is very efficient, it is not necessarily the most effective for unpredictable load patterns. The statistical approach, in which material is allocated according to where stress is most likely to occur, is closer to the structural logic that has evolved in living systems.

Fiber structures are common in Nature. Monodirectional structures such as bones or tree trunks use oriented fibers to resist axial loads . Multidirectional structures, like those shown below, use fibers in a random pattern to resist multiple loads. They often act as membranes because they can deform without  breaking.  Their resiliency  is due, in part, to the redundancy of their overlapping members.

melon rind
type I collagen

These structures are called statically indeterminate because it is  impossible to determine the load path using statics: the hand calculations that have been used by structural engineers since the 1800’s. Today we have computers and nonlinear analysis to solve for complex structures, but buildings are still designed and constructed in terms of  the old methods.  In the words of Karl Chu: “Architecture has still yet to incorporate the architecture of computation into the computation of architecture” *

The goal of this project is to create a building method that  relies on redundancy and statistical probablity as a structural  logic instead of efficiency and static determinacy.   I used  Grasshopper to create a randomized fiber membrane on a base surface in the following steps:

ScreenHunter_06 Oct. 22 10.29

First, points are located on the surface using a probability algorithm in which areas of  higher curvature are more likely to be populated (surface is color-coded for gaussian curvature in these screenshots). This should yeild a higher density of material in those areas.

ScreenHunter_08 Oct. 22 10.45
Next, the points are used as origins for randomly oriented strips of material based on “plank line” geometry (see earlier post), which conforms to the curvature of the surface but can be fabricated using perfectly straight strips of  material.

ScreenHunter_09 Oct. 22 11.33

Finally, the length of the strips  is set to achieve the proper overlap. Individual strip lengths adjust to curvature as well: shorter pieces where curvature is more intense. Holes are placed at the intersections for attachment and the strips are unrolled for fabrication.

This project is designed to address structural requirements in a statistical manner rather than a determinant one. That is to say without exhaustive analysis of the stresses in each member. As in many living systems, more material is allocated where more stress is most likely to occur, and where more strength is needed to maintain the surface’s intended shape.

This method could be modified by adding structural analysis of the base surface instead of simple curvature analysis.  Finite element analysis programs like NASTRAN or ANSYS will analyze a simple shell and output a deformation map similar to the curvature map shown here. All that is needed is to apply the bitmap to the surface, then vary point density by color, rather than by the native curvature graph.

ScreenHunter_05 Oct. 22 10.17 basket

*For an insightful analysis of design/construction paradigms in flux,  see Karl Chu’s essay: “The Metaphysics of Genetic Archtecture” in Arquitecturas Geneticas-II

melon rind

Cactaceae Tower

Posted by Charles Lee.

Cacti are distinctive and unusual plants, which are adapted to extremely arid and hot environments, showing a wide range of anatomical and physiological features which conserve water.  The design explores strategies for the skyscraper typology in the desert environment.  Uses different materials to passively ventilate and generate multiple thermal massing conditions within the interior of the building.





“Black Sun” Phenomenon

icon posted by Chris Chalmers

from wikipedia:

“Huge flocks of more than a million Starlings are observed just before sunset in spring in southwestern Jutland, Denmark. There they gather in March until northern Scandinavian birds leave for their breeding ranges by mid-April. Their flocking creates complex shapes against the sky, a phenomenon known locally as sorta sol (”Black Sun”). To witness this spectacle, the best place are the seaward marshlands (marsken in Danish) of Tønder and Esbjerg municipalities between Tønder and Ribe.”

This is probably old news to those of you with an interest in self-organizing systems (or birdwatching!) but I only discovered this phenomenon a couple of days ago. I immediately found it to be a compelling diagram for the dynamic self-organized design processes I have been so  enamored with. Flocking has been a model for generative process for years now. In fact, one of my first forays into scripting ( chaos tower, below) was originally inspired by the dynamic form of a flock of pigeons taking off.

The application I see to my current work is this: Model each room (or zone) in a building as a”flock” of particles. Flocks fly around inside a three-dimensional site envelope that is defined by property line and zoning height restrictions. Each particle is simultaneously attracted to the other particles in its flock, as well as its “goal”: the place in the building that fulfills its pre-programmed parameters.At the same time, particles are repelled by the ones from other zones when they get within a certain distance. This keeps the flocks tightly packed.

The beauty of this system is that the “goal”, the place that the particles in a particular flock want to get near, keeps moving based on the actions of the other flocks. Picture the starlings above, but 3 or 4 distinct flocks, all swirling around each other inside a site envelope. Maybe they gradually find stasis, or maybe we just have to stop the process whenever it looks best. Either way, when the motion stops, each flock becomes a different volume in the building.

Growing a Building v1

This progress update continues a line of research into the cellular biomimetic design strategy outlined in my thesis work posted here . The intent is to apply the logic of morphogenesis: the spatial organization of cells in living organisms, to a building design process. At issue are the mechanisms which decide which type of cell goes where: how does a lung cell come to be that specific type, instead of say, a bone cell?. Can the same logic be applied to a curtainwall, or a kitchen countertop?

This latest development  in the cell aggregation script (written for rhino) places “cells” (surrogate locations for building elements to be placed later) within the site’s buildable area. The boundary is defined by lot lines and zoning height restrictions, and takes the shape of a 3D volume (shown below within its context of a city block).

In living organisms, a large number of environmental factors are taken into account for the placement of different types of cells, not the least of which are ambient chemicals released by other cells. This script attempts to use the logic of this chemical communication to self-organize.

Cells are placed along with data points or “pheromones” and assigned to a specific layer.  Layers represent the various systems in the building.

Chemical Signaling as a Model for Digital Process in Architecture

Chris Chalmers will be presenting the following essay at ACADIA 2008. It is based on research done for the Master of Architecture program at California College of the Arts, San Francisco. download it here.

More background & supporting research can be found at Chris’ thesis blog site.


Vegetation is divided into natural sets in which diverse species reciprocally limit each other and in which, consequently, each contributes in the creation of an equilibrium for the others. The set of these plant species finally forms its own environment. In this way exchanges between plants and the atmosphere eventually create a sort of screen of water vapor around the plant zone which limits the effect of radiation, and the cause gives birth to the effect which checks it in turn, and so on.
The same views should be applied to the animal and man. However, the human reaction to the challenge of the environment happens to be diversified. Man can bring several solutions to a single problem posed by the environment. The environment proposes without ever imposing a solution. Certainly, the possibilities in a definite state of civilization and culture are not unlimited. But the fact that what at one time is seen as an obstacle may later prove to be a means of action is ultimately due to the idea, the representation that man forms – collectively, of course – of his possibilities and needs.

-Georges Canguilhem – The living being and its environment (milieu)

The role of the architect is quite literally one of assembly: synthesizing the various parts of a project into a cohesive whole. It is a difficult job, often requiring the architect to weave many seemingly contradictory concerns into a solution that benefits them all. It is not surprising then, that the many elegant and effective systems found in nature should be inspiring to the architect. Emerging fields like biomimicry and systems dynamics model the patterns of interaction between organisms and their environments in terms of dynamic part to part and part to whole relationships.Observations of real relationships between organisms and their environments, as they exist in nature, reveal complex feedback loops working across multiple scales. These feedback loops operate by the simultaneous action of two observed phenomena. The first is the classic phenotypic relationship seen when organisms of the same genetic makeup instantiate differently based upon differences in their environment. This is the relationship that was originally proposed by Charles Darwin in his theory of natural selection of 1859. Darwin’s model is unidirectional: the organism adapts to its environment, but not the other way around. It operates at the local scale as individual parts react to the conditions of the whole. (Canguilhem, 1952).The second phenomenon, which sees its effect at the global scale, is the individual’s role as consumer and producer in the flows of energy and material that surround it. It is the subtle and incremental influence of the organism upon its environment, the results of which are often invisible until they reach a catastrophic threshold , at which point all organisms in the system feel global changes.The research presented in this paper addresses the dialectic between organism and environment as each responds reciprocally to the others’ changing state. Such feedback loops act in a non-linear fashion, across nested scales in biological systems. They can be modeled to act that way in a digital design process as well. This research is an exploration into one such model and its application to architecture: the simple communication between organisms as they affect and are affected by their environments through the use of signal chemicals.

Scripted “Cell” Aggregation Within a Site Boundary

Exploded axon of prefab panel system

Scale models of laser-cut plywood panels and 3D printed rubber gaskets

The Thermal Organism and Architecture

Charles Lee had his thesis paper accepted by the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture to be published in conjuction with their 2008 conference ACADIA. It is entitled The Thermal Organism and Architecture and is available by clicking on the named link. The project was a hypothetical geothermal spa which looked at the sustainbale issues surrounding heat regulation and design influenced by biomimicry of mamallian hair and expressed through parametric geometries. Below are a few sample images from the project. Please double click twice on images to view nlarged.

Pacific Coast Centers for Ocean Health

Finalist in the Metropolis Next Generation Competition 2008

Designed by Charles Lee

The building program strives to create a collective learning, living and working environment in the same spirit as many of the species that thrive in our coastal waters. The building is a incubator for experimentation and exploration in research that will lead to a healthier coastal environment. The exterior envelope of the buildings will be a consistent geometric genotype that phenotypically responds to the specific siting at each harbour. The proposed centers highlight new technologies that utilize the ocean as the sustainable source of building energy, heating and cooling. The proposed interpretive center functions like many sea animals found within the intertidal zone of the Pacific coast, inflating and deflating to respond to environmental conditions. It also functions as living system that collects and recycles various forms of greywater and runoff through filtering wetlands on the exterior and interior of the buildings. The building uses wood from locally managed coastal forest. Many of the skins and surfaces of the building are made of recycled plastics and products derived from the sea. The building is supported by spread footings and pilings in opposition to traditional concrete slab techniques. Parking lots and assembly areas are porous material that emphasizes a connection with the natural earth and allows for sustainable drainage practices. Data networks are organized using the same principles found in succesful living networks operating in the coastal waters, ideas of redundancy, cellular cooperation and various forms of communication and navigation will be present in bouy networks connected to the interpretive centers. Please click on images twice to enlarge to full size.

Images by Charles Lee

The Glorious Organism

Posted by Charles Lee.

Proposed Future technology derived from biomimicry derived Hydro gel that color shifts and changes size due to thermal conditions used as wall panel in small structure controlling solar radiation and natural ventilation.

animation by Charles Lee

Thermodynamic Hydrogel

French style pool mattress

Already existing product manufacturing can be adapted to facilitate building of inflatable panels.