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


CALIFORNIA HIGH-SPEED RAIL- A New Diridon Station In San Jose

This is a visioning study down by the Perkins+Will San Francisco Office. The designers were Bill Katz and Jess Austin (me!) Andrew Wolfram was the managing principal and Arup provided engineering consultation.


This first scheme was developed to be a lighter weight structure that sailed above the current Diridon Station while creating a new space for The Proposed High Speed Rail. The structural diagram for this option was fairly simple, the large white members held themselves vertically with some basic columns helping out. The smaller cable like wire would provide the lateral support and respond to each unique loading condition. I used grasshopper to build the majority of this model hoping that any sizing or stress information we received from Arup could be integrated into the model. Thereby creating a feedback loop between the design and the structural requirements. Because this project was so short (two weeks!) we didn’t have the chance, but I know it can be done. The incredibly talented Ripon De Leon is updating our ColoniaTecne Project based on Buro Happold’s input.


This second scheme had some input from Andrew Tsay-Jacobs in our office. He went to engineering school and received three degrees before going to Columbia for his March; which is to say I think he’s very interesting. While he didn’t run any analysis or come up with any hard numbers we did sketch out a diagram that we think could work. Essentially the large columns are a vertical cantilever that triangulate at the bottom and there are smaller members that create an overall diaphragm for the roof. All very conceptual but this model was also made with grasshopper in the hopes that each member could be optimized. I am not publishing those definitions because they are a mess, and I think Perkins+Will might own them because I made them there. I hope you like it!

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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HOK San Francisco Net Zero Team has won Special Jury Recognition in the Architecture at Zero Competition

By Charles Lee

Architecture at Zero Entry and Team Members Nazila Duran, Charles Lee, Alan Bright, Scott Price; Standing from left to right: Sandeep Kathuria, Chris Gardini, Brian Campbell, , Seth Orgain, Justin Kelly, Olivier Santoni-Costantini, Kyle Prenzlow, Russell Simpkins, Scott Dunlap, Lindsay Steffes and Sean Gallivan. Not pictured: Elvira Dayel, Esmeralda Marquez, William Ogle, and Matthew Smith.

HOK recently won the Architecture at Zero Jury Special Recognition Award

I recently came across this website which talks about Bay Common SF Bay marine animals in specific I was interested in the Phylum Porifera which can act like a mini “hotel” or “apartment complex” for other animals.  Wikipedia was where I got the inspiration of  how Water flow and body structures work in sponges

Syconoid – Water flow


Porifera<> body structures[10]<>

Most sponges work rather like chimneys<>: they take in water at the bottom and eject it from the osculum<> (“little mouth”) at the top. Since ambient currents are faster at the top, the suction effect that they produce does some of the work for free. Sponges can control the water flow by various combinations of wholly or partially closing the osculum and ostia (the intake pores) and varying the beat of the flagella. Also Sponges with photosynthesizing<> endosymbionts<> produce up to three times more oxygen<> than they consume, as well as more organic matter than they consume. Such contributions to their habitats’ resources This is what I have to say

Using the free energy system principles inherent in the form of the net positive sponge type “syconoid” a similar digital massing was built in Vasari and tested with onsite wind analysis.  The results were exciting.  Each unit has open pores that allow air to circulate through the shell into an interior atrium and each unit can control the flow of air. The air is then exhausted with the help of the negative pressure at the opening of the building at the leeward top of the mass which creates a suction effect that periodically pulls air through the system.  This effect would also be heightened with stack effect but was not tested in the conceptual model.  When the air flow is watched in real time animation the effect is similar to a primordial heartbeat causing the flow of air to surge in pulses through the body of the building.  The biomimetic process was very stimulating and  informing the team in our understanding of the origins of complex systems in life and inversely how complex building systems can begin to perform with the efficiency and beneficial attributes of life. Paired with the BIOS-FIN system = The BIOS-FIN (Functionally Integrated NutraFilters)

Using flat panel photobioreactors would grow algae and be incorporated into a building facade system which also functions as vertical light blades. The system could be even more robust if it not only absorbed CO2 from the building occupants but it could also biofiltrate<> greywater waste. Taking inspiration from local salt flats in the bay that system would change color due to different strains of algae and bacteria colonies at different purification.[cid:image004.jpg@01CCADE5.E8270890]<>  Similar to the tiered cleaning pools of a living bio-filtration ponds structured as artificial wetlands.  The end result is a Light Filtering, CO2 absorbing, Greywater Purifying, Bioenergy producing Rainbow Beauty.


Fabripod Configurator Mockup is Live!


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 

Fabripod configutator mockup

This is a mockup of the lamp configurator I’m putting together for Fabripod, the company I’m starting that sells lamps. The mockup opens in a new window. Use the sliders on the left to control options like scale and materials. The resulting size and price is shown on the right. You cant buy laps with this configurator yet so the “make it” button doesn’t do anything yet. This is currently tested and working in firefox on both mac and windows. Its  working in chrome on windows, but not on mac (at least not on mine).

I’m still working out the kinks in the back end, so the pricing is not accurate yet. Stay tuned for the official release coming up soon! If you absolutely need to buy an Urchin lamp right now, check out the one size available in the Ponoko store!

Cabinet Wall Generator


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 

This is a fun project I did for a friend who wanted to design a wall of cabinets with an integrated work surface. This definition takes lines on the ground as input and helps to compose a wall of individual doors, with sizes that you specify. Then it  projects a pattern be CNC cut into the doors. (cut it at Techshop or with 100k garages!)The pattern comes from an image that you add yourself so it could be anything. The example below used a photo of some shadows on the ground.

download the grasshopper file and rhino base file here

Chrysalis update: new reward level on Kickstarter!


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 

Great news!

I’m sure you have all see the previous posts about my Chrysalis project on kickstarter. Well Ponoko has been generous enough to offer $50 making vouchers to backers of Chrysalis who pledge $50 or more. That’s right: you support the Chrysalis project with $50 and you get a making voucher for the full $50 from Ponoko. Making vouchers are redeemable for all of the making services that Ponoko offers: laser cutting, CNC routing and 3D printing! For more information on making vouchers see this link.

If you’re already a backer, its easy to upgrade your pledge and add this reward: just log in to kickstarter, go to the Chrysalis project page, and click on “manage my pledge”.  If you’re not a backer yet, this is a great opportunity to support a great tool for makers, and do some making yourself as well!

this is what the package looks like when they deliver your parts!
and here’s what I made…. see more at

Chrysalis – Maker Stories #1


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 
What would you use Chrysalis for?

That’s the question I have been asking each person who has backed my project on kickstarter . Listed below are the best answers so far, in no particular order.  I will continue to post the really outstanding ones on this blog and onBIOS in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!

Quoted directly from kickstarter backers’ comments:

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Cat in the Bag table by Filson Rohrbacher

Cat in the Bag table by Filson Rohrbacher

“My partner and I have designed a series of customizable furniture objects ( We designed the furniture to be parametrically transformed, exported into 2D cut files, downloaded for local CNC fabrication, and finished and assembled by a user. We’ve managed to design transformations in Grasshopper, and are in the process of (slowly) making it happen with Processing. But, really, Chrysalis is our holy grail that would help us more immediately realize the co-design process that’s really important to us and the project.”

Anne Filson – Filson and Rohrbacher Architecture
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“I want to be able to visualize data sets in 3D to create data embodied objects. ”

-David Bellona, Brooklyn, NY
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“Community involvement in public architecture, is another purpose that comes to my mind. So say the city of SF was going to contract the construction of a new sculpture in the park, The designer could create the basic forms, materials, construction methods, etc., and allow the citizens to manipulate a few variables to taylor it more to their liking. The designer could then consider the possibilities from public input, and create a hybrid product from their considerations. A more democratic form of public works can be achieved this way. I would definitely pitch it to the city… once it exists.

-Slate Werner, Santa Barbara, CA
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Check out the Chrysalis project on kickstarter here

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.

Chrysalis Update!


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 

In response to overwhelming request to offer something more suited for the designer/maker, I’ve added the new “Collaborator” reward to my kickstarter project for $75.


Take this opportunity to show the world what you will make with Chrysalis, and drive more traffic to your site by linking to it from ours!

I’ve also reduced the price of my largest reward to $2500 from $5000! The “True Believer” includes implementation of a fully operational mass customization web app, hosted on the Fabripod site or on your own, and includes incorporation of one of the online maker APIs like Shapeways or Ponoko! It’s a pretty amazing deal!

Please spread the word about this new reward!

Link to project:

Parking Day – with Studios Architecture and Holmes-Culley Engineers


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 

Chris Chalmers was recently approached by Studios Architecture to give a short grasshopper tutorial and offer digital fabrication consulting for their highly acclaimed installation for Parking Day 2011. This project used over 250 cardboard tubes from architectural plotter rolls, and  160 CNC-cut MDF connectors. We used Grasshopper to preview what the design would look like with a number of different car-shaped outlines. Grasshopper also output the number and size of  each type of piece we would need, so we had an accurate prediction of cost and CNC time for each variation.

here are some screen shots from the various designs we explored:

the Prius

the Hummer:

the compact SUV

and a screen shot of the connector pieces, laid out for CNC cutting at Techshop from a 4’x8′ sheet of MDF.

Finally, this project has gotten a lot of press! Congatulations to the Studios Team:

Anna deAnguera, Justin Glover, Brian Nee, Matthew Covall, Tanya Retherford and Andrew Clemenza (apologies if I’ve missed anybody)

and to Paul Roberts  and Bill Tremayne from Holmes-Culley Engineers

CNC friendly numbers in Rhino


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 


I have updated the script in this post to automatically replace any two digit text objects in a rhino file with custom blocks (two digits for numbers up to 99). Simply copy the blocks in the example file (numbers-function.rvb) into yours and run the script. If your digits are too far away from each other or overlapping, adjust the “dblKern” variable in the script. 
here are the updated files:
(remember to right-click and save-as)
Modify the blocks using the in-place block editorfrom rhino-Labs. Let me know what you make with this I’d love to see it!

Single-line fonts are the standard for laser cutting and CNC milling because they are more eficient to cut. Somebody correct me if I’m missing something here, but  it seems impossible to get a single-line font to appear in Rhino using the typical text tools. I’ve been doing quite a bit of CNC milling lately, so I used this technique to create single-line labels for my cut files by using pre-defined blocks instead of text.

ScreenHunter_03 Jul. 16 23.16
ScreenHunter_01 Jul. 16 23.10

The script is set up as a function so you can incorporate it into your scripts easily. To use it, you have to first import the rhino file with the text blocks into your file.  Then run the script and it will simply turn the text you want to use into the appropriate block and place it.

The beauty of this system is that you can make your own custom fonts! Just draw any shapes you want to represent your letters and numbers. Make them into blocks with the appropriate names (letterA, number 2 etc..), and the script will place them instead. Make sure they are 1 unit high in the current unit system (ie: 1 foot, 1 inch, 1 meter etc..)  for the sizing bit to work properly.

I’ve always thought that a system based on geometry like latin numerals or braile might  wok better than text for labeling parts. I’d love to see your experiments, please send them to me!

(remember to right-click and save-as)



New Parametric lamp prototype


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 

This is the first of a series of lamps I plan to make available through mass-customization fabricator

The pattern can be laser-cut from a variety of materials on the ponoko site and shipped to the customer as a kit to be assembled at home.

See this lamp and others on the ponoko store as they become available.





Here is an example of a translucent wood veneer I am experimenting with as a possible material.



BIOS Net Positive Spirits – Algae based sustainable drinkable alcohol

I want to market and sell an algae based sustainable drinkable alcohol.  The name I was thinking of is BIOS net positive spirits.  I have my first label idea and bottle for you to view. The problem I see right now in the algae to ethanol business is that hydrocarbon based fuel is still to cheap to make it feasible.  But drinkable alcohol has a much higher price point.  I have yet to taste drinkable ethanol from algae but I imagine that even if it is not the best we could mix it with flavors that might make it taste like scotch or mix it with nori, herbs etc.  I imagine Asian markets would accept it because of their affinity for many algae based foods. In western markets the sustainable minded consumer would be excited at the opportunity to drink non grain alcohol nobody wants to deplete our fertile food growing land to have a good time when there is a much better source.  I even thought we could make the label a certificate that represents the carbon credits that were generated from the making of the spirit and you could redeem them for other sustainable products etc and then the credits could be sold on the open market in Europe.  What I have been trying to find is a source of drinkable algae ethanol.  The problem is the mix is different for drinkable grade ethanol and nobody has yet expressed interest in shifting their research.  If anybody is interested in partnering please feel free to contact me.

Charles Lee

BIOS-FIN system = Algae Biofiltration to Biofuel Building Facade System

Posted by Charles Lee . I have recently been sharing research with a few talented individuals over at Scottish Bioenergy.  I also like some of the research I have recently seen coming from ASU from David Cardello .  Their photobioreactor style started me thinking about ways it could be incorporated into a building facade system.  I thought they would make excellent vertical light blades. The all green image shows this concept if applied to the Federal building in San Francisco.  Then I thought this system could be even more robust if it not only absorbed CO2 from the building occupants but it could also biofiltrate greywater waste. I think the salt flats in the bay that change color due to different strains of algae and bacteria colonies at different salinity periods is inspiring.  It made me think about the tiered cleaning pools of a living bio-filtration ponds structured as artificial wetlands.  What if GMO algae strains were color coded to show the different strains of algae in the different phases of filtration? I think it would be beautiful after producing a concept image.  So to wrap up this little experiment the resultant is a Light Filtering, CO2 absorbing, Greywater Purifying, Bioenergy producing Rainbow Beauty. The BIOS-FIN (Functionally Integrated NutraFilters)

BIOS shortlisted in Trash-to-Treasure competition


 posted by Chris Chalmers, Fabripod 

A project designed and built by BIOS has been shortlisted in a competition called trash-to-treasure, put on by a group at RGU in Aberdeen called Tesseract!


Here’s the competition brief:
“We are asking you to design something beautiful and useful that uses material that are otherwise thrown away. How can your design change people’s attitude towards what is rubbish, and what we waste? We are looking for a creative and imaginative response, where new and innovative uses are found for items which are considered worthless. Being able to design using wasted materials can transform communities who have barely anything, so we would love to see your ideas, however crazy they might be.”

This project is described in More detail here:

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.