Integrating Soft Robotics into Architectural Assemblies



Photo of Vera Parlac

Vera Parlac

Associate Professor

New Jersey Institute of Technology



The project described in this paper explores the integration of custom-made soft robotic muscles into a component-based surface. This project is part of a broader research that focuses on new material behaviors and their capacity to produce adaptive and dynamic material systems. It presents the ongoing research into the capacity of pneustructures, when integrated, to generate kinetic movement within a component-based assembly and produce a responsive “programmable” architectural skin.

Buildings exist in a dynamic environment. This work starts from the premise that architecture and the built environment in general should be more tightly bound to those dynamics. Therefore, the research presented here focuses on material behaviors of inflatable muscles and their capacity to meet dynamics of the environment half way by allowing our buildings or their components to be dynamic.

This is a prototype-based exploration that addresses several aspects of a dynamic system. It proposes a light modular structure with the specific components and a pattern of their aggregation and demonstrates a range of motions achieved by different muscle types. When integrated the light modular structure and inflatable muscles work I unison to produce a dynamic architectural skin. The aim of this project was to produce a dynamic system that is self-supporting, pliable and kinetic with behavior governed by the configuration of modular components and the position and concentration of pneumatic elements. The project reflects an interest in tectonics that can integrate stasis and motion. It is informed by a history of pneumatic structures, the technology of soft robotics, and a kit-of-parts design strategy.


In the past twenty years, there has been a strong interest among architects and engineers to design adaptive, flexible, and responsive façade systems (Kolarevic and Parlac 2015). Their motivation stems

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Inflatable or pneumatic structures have been used in architecture primarily for their lightness in relation to the structural span. One of the first fully inflatable structures was a radome developed

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The project brings together two strategies for designing adaptive architectural skins. One is concerned with the combinatorial variability of a light structure built by aggregating small self-similar components. The other

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The research shows a promising way of integrating an active pneumatic layer within a light modular structure. An important aspect of this project is the smooth transitioning between fixed and

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Conclusion and Future Work

The main motivation for the development of this system of soft actuation was to produce a uniform material system that can be built in a variety of configurations and reduce

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Previous version of this paper was published in White Papers of Living Architecture Systems Group Symposium (2019) edited by Beesley, Hastings and Bonnemison.

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