Ruga Architectural Skin (RAS): Towards Building Smart Self-Folding Topology


Wu, J., Anwar, S. (2016). Ruga Interior Skin (RIS): Towards Building Smart Self-Deployable Structures,” International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp. 17-30, 2016

In architectural design, skin is a familiar metaphor for building envelopes that provide flexible layers of protection and are often dependent upon rigid structural supports. With advances in material technology and sustainable development, architectural skins are changing, creating new topological forms, providing new visual and tactile experiences, and becoming the conceptual bridge between our body and our environment. Can a three-dimensional architectural skin be self-assembled or self-folded from two-dimensional sheet material? Can this architectural skin be made of non-rigid material and yet provide semi-rigid structural support? What are the design considerations, tools, techniques, methods and processes of building such an architectural skin? And how can a new approach to developing an innovative architectural skin contribute to our ongoing search for energy-efficient building design, self-assembling deployable shelter, as well as sustainable construction techniques? This paper will introduce Ruga Architectural Skin (RAS), an ongoing research project exploring the potentiality of a new type of architectural skin.

“Ruga” is a Latin word for making winkles, creases, and folds, and the word has been recently used by material scientists to describe the various physical qualities of these various folded states. RAS is inspired by the use of folding to create complex topological forms from flat thin sheet material with simple and low cost tools. Folded forms have inherently rigid properties and at the same time are flexible. In comparison to other fabrication techniques, folding or bending allows for complex and innovative structures formed with simple and low cost tools at the point of assembly. From flat sheet material, folded designs can be easily deployed into a three-dimensional volume and then can be collapsed back to a two-dimensional flat shape that is much smaller for ease shipping and storage.

Many folded designs are inspired by origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. The original purpose of origami is to obtain various shapes, ranging from animals figures to objects, both abstract and figurative, by folding a flat sheet of uncut paper. Constructing a three-dimensional surface from two-dimensional sheet material in origami has inspired designers and engineers to come up with novel ways to fabricate, assemble, store and morph structures that are safe, efficient and energy saving (Edwin, Hartl, Malak, & Lagoudas, 2014), from collapsible medical stents for hearts (Kuribayashi et al., 2006) to airbags for cars. In architectural design, one of the earliest examples of exploration of paper folding and topological design of architectural system was conducted by Ron Resch (Ronald D Resch, 1973). In the last two decades, folding, both as a theoretical idea and as a means for form generation in architecture, has inspired a new generation of architects and designers to create morphogenesis architectural volumes with continuous variations and interpolations that overlaps gaps and avoid fracture (Lynn, 2004). Morphological architectural structures are starting to make use of one of the main characteristics of folding design – the kinetic ability to deploy and collapse in three-dimensional space (Liapi, 2002; Motro, 2009). More recently, researchers have been looking into using active materials that can convert various form of energy into mechanical work for folding to create self-folding (Edwin et al., 2014). However, low cost architectural skins that are deployable, configurable and that are in large scales, continue to be very challenging for architects and designers.

This architectural skin comes from two-dimensional sheet materials that can be pre-fabricated off-site and then shipped flat to the site, thus tremendously reducing the required amount of energy and resources in comparison to conventional structures. Once arriving on the site, it can be self-assembled or self-folded, suspended and reconfigured differently into various semi-structural surfaces. Although this architectural skin has roots in a paper folding art form, it proposes not only to significantly advance the technology of the art form, but also to transform this technology to the self-assembling structures that can potentially shift the paradigm in building temporary architecture.

This paper starts with a discussion of the application of origami in self-assemble and deployable architectural topologies. While objective of this paper is towards building smart self-folding architectural topology, this paper currently focuses on identifying the design considerations, tools, techniques, methods and processes of making and installing of several 1:1 scale mock-ups in corrugated cardboard, testing of varies materials, and surveying of the self-folding mechanism design and remote micro-processor control system design. Pending funding opportunity will allow us to build a 1:1 scale smart architectural skin prototype.

This research is a collaboration between Jiangmei Wu and Sohel Anwar.


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