An Ultra-Lightweight Skyscraper for Chicago

In 1889, in the midst of industrial and social change, the Eiffel Tower was opened as a structure that completely revolutionized the building technologies of the day. It demonstrated in a very tangible way that very tall, lightweight, construction was feasible - this success was felt across the globe.

Like the Eiffel Tower, this project represents a new type of lightweight skyscraper that integrates responsive technologies into its structural frame and skin to reduce the amount of material and energy that is required to construct and maintain a large scale structure. It is hoped that these explorations will lead to more sustainable building practices and the development of new urban forms that use less material to greater effect. Unlike the conventional boxes that we live in, these buildings actively adapt to the natural environment to improve the way that people live.

Today intelligent buildings are typically conceived of as dumb envelopes that have intelligent pieces added to them (i.e. smart glazing and mechanical systems). My work challenges this by realizing that the form of a building can be intelligent and responsive too. As an idea, shape change is commonly employed in nature to control the ways in which biological systems work. For example, birds shape their bodies and wings to control the velocity of their flight and when our bodies experience strong loads (such as a blowing gale) we alter our posture to offset these forces. This position has opened a deeply technical area of design to creative and formal exploration.

Background: This project began in 2004 as an offshoot from writing about the role of control in lightweight architectural design. In 2010 the project was re-opened in response to discussions and current progress toward several versions of a reworked structural system are underway. The structural vocabulary also appears within the Prairie House project. In 2008 and 2009 films of filamentosa and a series of controlled prototypes were shown in a Discovery Science TV program about balance