It may sound futuristic, but kinetic architecture, or architecture allowing parts of a structure to move without affecting overall stability, has been a crucial part of home design throughout history. Technological advancements since the late 20th century have allowed the concept to blossom and expand far beyond its early examples, but to truly understand this architectural concept, it’s necessary to look back around one thousand years.
There are several practical reasons for the implementation of kinetic architecture. In the Middle Ages, castles needed to be impervious to invaders, but able to freely admit friends in times of peace. The drawbridge, which could be lowered to provide a bridge over a moat or raised to act as an immense door, is therefore one of the earliest examples of kinetic architecture. Using mechanised structures, it’s possible to change the shape and appearance of a building to suit the needs of people inside, and adapt to the elements outside. Today, those elements are more likely to be extreme weather conditions than marauding armies, but the central principle remains unchanged.
The University of Southern Denmark in Kolding contains a prime example of how the principles of kinetic architecture can be used in public buildings. Newly opened in 2014, the Kolding campus was designed by Henning Larsen Architects and is the first university building in the country to meet the strict energy targets Denmark has set for 2015. The triangular edifice contains sensors that monitor the external heat and light conditions and allow triangular panels covering the façade to move from closed, to half open, to fully open in response to the external temperature. Custom patterns of holes on each triangular panel allow light through even when closed, while exposed concrete slabs inside the building ensure maximum heat retention.
In Georgia, USA, a stadium currently under construction for the Atlanta Falcons football team incorporates kinetic principles. Due for completion in time for the 2017 football season, the ‘rose petal’ roof will be retractable. Its pentagonal panels slide open diagonally, in a similar way to a camera aperture, allowing the stadium to double-up as an open-air venue and closed, air-conditioned facility as needed.
Kinetic architecture can be also implemented on a more personal scale. In Suffolk, England, a private home was designed with a mobile ‘shell’ which can be moved to cover and uncover different parts of the building, altering the views and changing the interior lighting conditions of the home. The kinetic element uses rails built into the ground to move smoothly across the house’s façade, and is designed in rustic wood panelling to complement its rural surroundings.
In Tehran, Iran, the Sharifa-Ha House was designed with kinetic features to adapt to the variable weather conditions of the nation. Built on three storeys, the house’s breakfast room, guest room and home office can be rotated through 90 degrees. During the hot summer, the rooms gain terraces and open views, but can be fitted horizontally back into the house to provide better insulation in the winter months.
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