Master´s Thesis 2020 Material Turn

Andreas Nyström


Since the time of early man, architecture has been, in essence, static. Structures were built to last, the criteria being the longer a building last, the better it was. By analogy to biological evolution, architecture has been at a low evolutionary level, with little or no adaption potential as is found in higher biological or technological developments. However, certain exceptions occur historically in this pattern of staticism which indicate a definite evolution to kinetics.

Roger H.Clark & William Zuk, 1970
Kinetic Architecture

The traditional way of constructing buildings is to make them last and the longer they last, the better. This has been achieved by developing structural systems and using materials that will improve the buildings lifetime. We can almost assume today that most buildings will always stand until they are rebuilt or demolished. By this architecture can sometimes be referred to as the permanent expression of its time. Everything surrounding the building and the society will change, but the building will still be there.

The result of this has been a very static architecture with buildings built for one purpose and dimensioned accordingly. However, the way a building is used can be very dynamic and the demands we have on them can change. For example, most office buildings are only used during certain hours and public areas can be flooded with people during a couple of hours and then be completely empty hours later.

In the seventies William Zuk and Roger H. Clark presented the concept of kinetic architecture in their book Kinetic Architecture. They state that primitive forms were quite simple and emerged as a direct response to extremely limited needs and how this does not work today, with a society that constantly changes. We design buildings to be monuments and architects become monument builders. However, they are not directly against this approach, but they predict a change occurring with more dynamic and adaptable structures using kinetic systems in some degree. In this way Zuk and Clark proposed a new idea and concept of architecture that would reject the perception that architecture is static.

Kinetic Architecture in History

The earliest example of kinetic architecture can be found in the early days of our history when mankind used logs and movable stones to cover openings. Looking at how kinetic architecture is mostly used today, almost nothing has changed. We use kinetic components to open and close openings, doors and windows. There have been some exceptions were the kinetics has been taken to another level and many of them started to appear during the 18th and 19th century. The dining room table of the Palace of Versailles is one famous example, with its table that lowered down to the servants who set the table and then rise it back up again.

In some areas kinetic systems is used quite frequently, for example in theatre design with curtains and stages that can transform. Elevators that were introduced in 1853 by Elisha Otis is also one common example of kinetics used in architecture. The use of kinetics has not changed too much until today, one more recent example is dynamic façade systems. Automated sun-shading systems protecting buildings from sunlight and heat.