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    Thermal Interrelation: An Architectural Thesis

    Megan Basnak
    Feb 10, '12 4:30 PM EST

    Contributed by: Robert Garlow, M.Arch Student

    [ How can a better understanding of a material’s reaction to thermal energy allow us to design an architecture that participates and mediates amidst the presence of bodies and/or environmental stimuli? ]

    Historically, our attempts to suppress a material’s reaction to external stimuli (e.g., sealing, painting, etc.) has led to a limited pallet of conventional construction materials, chosen because of their predictability. Rather than focusing on the material as an artifact and an end in itself, I am proposing a study of material’s latent phenomena, properties and behaviors and how recognition of and attention to a material’s specific response could reshape the way we think about and use it.

    By reversing our attention from suppressing a material’s inherent qualities, and instead focusing on a way to exploit that response, we can generate new applications for ordinary materials and design with a new sensitivity in which the interaction of body, architecture and environment is redefined, altering our perceptions of a once static built environment while also altering the environment itself. This heightened understanding and application of material response can reinforce, both physically and emotionally, our engagement with and experiences of a receptive architecture.

    I was Inspired by the bi-metallic thermometer’s ability to turn thermal energy change into mechanical displacement as well as the physicist's interpretation of a boundary condition as an automated and dynamic convective layer that is triggered by energy differences and is only in place until an equilibrium is reached. I have begun to research material responses to thermal energy, with intentions of applying this knowledge at the scale of the human body both thermally and physically, perhaps to mediate rather than separate and divide.

    This research is predicated on the sideways displacement (bend or curl) that occurs when two materials with different linear coefficients of expansion are laminated together.  Beginning with a single 6 inch strip, the material investigations increased in complexity and scale, culminating in a full scale partition that transforms from a static plane to a dynamic three dimensional form that alters and engages the space it divides as the room’s temperature increases.

    This thesis aims to utilize natural material deformation for spatial production, transformation and participation at a multiplicity of scales.

    Thesis Committee:
    Jean LaMarche:   Associate Professor, University at Buffalo School of Architecture
    Nick Bruscia:       Clinical Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo School of Architecture
    Matt Hume:         Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo School of Architecture

    Robert Garlow recently completed his Masters of Architecture at the University at Buffalo and is continuing this material exploration as a researcher at the Center for Architecture and Situated Technologies to develop interior and exterior architectural applications for thermally reactive bi-material lamination systems that promote energy efficiency and sustainable design.
    You can follow the continuation of the material research and its evolution into architectural application on his blog:

    More Thesis information and Photo/Video documentation can be found at¬

    Could we use natural phenomena like these warped railroad tracks due to linear expansion on a hot day to our advantage?



    The bi-metallic thermometer piqued my interest in the relationship between temperature and movement.


    Photo by Gary Settles    What if we no longer assume boundary conditions need to be static? This photo demonstrates how a physicist understands a boundary condition as a dynamic and automated convective layer triggered by energy differences.

    Quantifying the deflection of various material combinations. 12 Minutes. 70-105 Degree F 


    Two-way mesh resulting in a multi-axis deflection. 12 Minutes. 70-105 Degree F


    A floor to ceiling installation that has the ability to illustrate the striated ambient room temperature based on the amount each fin bends. Here it is shown reacting to the increased surface temperature as the sun moves across its surface.


    The congruent arrangement of the 12 alternating units that compose this ring work together effectively cutting the amount of heat required in half. 20 Minute. 70-84 Degrees F


    The double skin and hinge connection that allows the sheet material to deflect with more freedom.


    Formal Investigation. By multiplying and stacking the horizontal bi-material strips, the simple single axis deflection yields dynamic results based on varying unit orientation.


    Full scale partition upon heating.



    Full scale partition upon heating.


    Partition Transformation


    • Kris Wan

      What an inarticulate piece of rubbish.

      Feb 11, 12 11:43 am  · 
      Dani Zoe

      I completely disagree with "Kris Wan," a couple of minor typos does not make this a "piece of rubbish." In fact, I find this to be an extremely intriguing and useful thesis project. Many students at the major architecture schools have avoided the topic of materiality and construction, which makes this thesis quite refreshing.

      Feb 12, 12 9:05 pm  · 

      Yes, I disagree with "Kris Wan" as well. I think there are a lot of interesting ideas that can sprout from investigating a topic like this. As I read through the brief, a number of purposes popped up regarding architecture of course, but there are many functions that have just occurred to me for technology like this within the realms of mechanical systems and industrial design...

      Feb 20, 12 1:55 am  · 

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