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This week I have worked with Dr Ben Bridgens examining the potential of heat activated pistons which can be used to mechanically move objects. Wax within the piston responds to changes in temperature – as the temperature increases, the wax expands opening the piston. As the temperature decreases, the wax contracts and the piston closes.  This push/pull action has many potential applications.  Requiring no electricity to work, it is an appealing method of achieving thermal control. The wax piston is available commercially and is used to open windows and vents when temperatures rise. As an artist with an interest in kinetic and responsive structures, I am excited by the possible application of this simple technology.

Imagine a reflective screen that moves and opens on warm days, creating changing light patterns and extended views. The pistons can be set to respond at varying temperature levels so the individual panels could move at different times. Great potential for beautiful structures that respond to changes in the weather, reminiscent of a bird fluffing up its feathers!


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Using colourless prismatic materials the interior space is transformed in direct sunlight. Daylight is split into multiple colours with interesting shadows and light-splitting effects.  When the sun goes behind a cloud, the colours disappear and the space returns to normal.


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This week I am exploring the potential of heat responsive materials and forms. Thermostatic bimetals are exciting materials consisting  of two or more metallic layers which have different coefficients of expansion. They respond to changes in temperature, curling in a uniform arc.   I have created a simple screen from a series of flat, vertically positioned, bimetal panels.

As the ambient temperature increases, each metal panel curls outwards, creating a beautiful arching form. As they cool they return in unison to their flat vertical profile.  Fabulous to imagine such a structure on a large scale – on hot days the screen bends potentially to create a canopy which could be designed to filter the suns rays and provide shade. The shape of the screen will be different depending on environmental conditions, reflecting changes in the weather.

I love the simple beauty of this structure!

 


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Ben Bridgens set me the task of creating bolted structures using a layer of thin veneer and a layer of fibre glass. This is the same combination as explored in previous experiments but this time no glue is used to laminate the two layers together.

In doing this, I learnt an important lesson when working with the veneer – the direction of the grain has a massive impact on responsiveness. In this experiment, despite drenching the panel, no change was recorded. The grain, running vertically, prevented the material to move under moisture.

Compare this to the same experiment but this time with the grain running horizontally…

By varying the number of bolts, the degree of curving and bending of the form can be changed. When dry, the panel will uncurl and return to its flat profile. Interesting results!


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I have been exploring exciting structures that will move and change under wet conditions. Work at Newcastle University with engineer Ben Bridgens and researcher Artem Holstov, demonstrates the amazing potential of this technique which involves the bonding of thin layers of wood veneer to fibre glass. On the roof area of the University these structures have been explosed to the north east weather and the results recorded over time.

Various shaped panels fixed to a framework are seen to curl and open when damp, then close again as they dry out. The University is testing the longevity of such structures, so that they may assess the  potential for future architectural application.

Working with Newcastle architects JDDK, the potential of responsive panels like these for use in the roof of an external canopy, is currently under research.


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