There is something so beautiful and so intriguing about a fold.
For the last month or so my studio partner, Alex, and I have been studying the honeypot ant in a bio-inspired architecture studio. We’ve been studying the ant because it’s abdomen expands to store food and continues to store the food for other ants in the colony, acting as food storage for the worker ants. When the ant is not storing food, it’s abdomen returns it’s normal state.
We are hoping to apply these ideas to expandable architecture. We’ve discovered two systems of an expandable skin and are still deep into research of how it works in the honeypot ant. One is a composite material, the other is folding. The ant’s skin does fold to expand and retract, using a composite material, but so do a lot of things.
“If you around the room, or out of the window and list how many things fold. The obvious thing is this sweater, my shirt, the collar is folded. The skin here on my eye. If I talk to you or to the camera, then the air is folding and going into your ear. Even the galaxies are wheeling around, and you know folding itself over eons as it goes around. That looks like mountains and valleys, which is the reason that mountains and valleys go through the same process. Even DNA is folded, you and I are born from folding.” -Paul Jackson, Between the Folds
So if folding is so apparent our everyday lives, why does it seem so absent from architecture? Why is folding not part of standard building practices and building materials? What if it could be? Perhaps if our materials were engineered to be adaptable, greater possibilities would lie in what we could do with them.
A lot of architectural research in this idea is being done at MIT. This video (http://thecreatorsproject.com/blog/self-assembling-structures-rippling-computational-walls-and-the-experimental-architecture-of-the-future) portrays research by Joel Lamere in sheet materials and the possibilities in folding, J. Meejin Yoon in smarter, more flexible materials which can be responsive, and Sheila Kennedy who is urging the discipline of architect not to innovate in digital fabrication, but in material fabrication.