Biodynamic Structures 2010

Architectural Association of London Visiting School 2010

Biodynamic Structures at California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California.

The 2010 Biodynamic Structures Seminar brought sixty people from twenty different countries together to learn, research, and build fully interactive biodynamic structures in ten days.  Starting with a series of workshops focusing on Arduino, Grasshopper, Firefly, and structural systems, the class challenged students to develop full scale working prototypes of a biodynamic system of their choosing.

Each group of students started by locating an area within the CCA campus for their intervention.  They then isolated the issues inherent in that location that a biodynamic system could address and then set out to design and build their full scale prototype of the intervention, applying what was learned in the three days of workshops to the project.

As a participant in the seminar, my group decided to tackle the biodynamic systems employed by scales and feathers, designing a modular system of plastic scales that reacted to light and heat and interacted with users via fiber optic touch sensors.

The scales are deployed in a two part skin.  The upper skin is composed of a lasercut plywood lattice that enables the individual scales to vary in size and shape dependent on the needs of the user.  The modules are composed of a vertical plywood arm with a servo mounted in it to actuate the scales.  The scales are made out of polystyrene vacuum formed over a MDF mold that was cut on a CNC machine.

Two light sensors, a temperature sensor, and a fiber optic touch sensor activate the scales.  The light sensors and temperature sensor relay data in real time to the onboard Arduino Mega, resulting in global changes that respond to high temperatures and low light levels, opening the scales or closing them to dissipate heat or even out ambient light.  The touch sensor activated the scales at the local level, allowing for controlled light exposure, enabling the user to direct light onto their desktops as needed.  The skin was programmed via the Firefly module in Grasshopper, allowing us to manipulate a digital Rhino model in real time with the data provided by the Arduino.

Conceptual render

Cardboard prototype

Completed prototype
Scale detail


  1. Is there a way you could post a video of these in action? I'd love to see how they really move.

  2. I meant to, the project was sitting at CCA for a few weeks, when I went to go retrieve it, I was too late and it had been destroyed by the custodial staff the day before. Luckily I got all the servos back. I'll see if other team members got any videos of it in action.