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METAfolly: architecture / responsive systems / Fibrous Structures / MetaFolliesMarch 2, 2013

The concept


‘[…] mere purposive rationality unaided by such phenomena as art, religion, dream, and the like, is necessarily pathogenic and destructive of life; […]’

G. Bateson




ecoLogicStudio's  “METAfolly " is a sonic environment which aims at es­tablishing a playful dialogue with the user enabling the development of a form of meta-language based on material experience, patterns recog­nition as well as a real-time meta-conversation.  It revisits the architectural “folly” type as a synthetic organism.

Commissioned by the FRAC Centre in Orleans, it is now part of its permanent collection.


A field of digitally materialized sensitivity agitates a proliferation of 300 piezo-buzzer analogically modulated in 4 different tones; programmed to operate like a swarm of crickets they react to the speed of visitors' movements around the folly, developing ripples of sound that bounce back and forth until dissolution, synchronisation or complete interference; the convolutedness of the geometry produces the emergence of unique sonic niches to be decoded by the human ears inside the folly.

META-Folly argues for computational cyber-artificiality to substitute nature as reference for the development of new architectural codes; offering refuge and consolation to the emerging crowd of urban post-ecologists, it gives up searching for a green Arcadia and is determined to embody an abstract / mathematical version of it.

The project draws the line of a future convergence of cybernetics and environmental psychology, digital computational design and parametricism, digital craftsmanship and DIY interaction design, radical ecologic thinking and material activism.

The outcome may be an improbable assemblages of ‘urban trash’ (recycled polypropylene, hacked sound kits, steel rods, chameleonic nano-flakes) but within it we find a new aesthetic and spatial milieu, a new form of material life.



The Grotto re-loaded

What a ‘folie’, some might say!

In fact the METAfolly engages the tradition of the architectural folly with the same playful attitude found in some English landscape garden where architecture becomes a device to establish a new relationship with the natural context; among the many kind of folly the "grotto" was certainly one of the most intriguing types. Typically accessed from the water, the grotto was an immersive environment faking the spatial effects of a natural cave and reproducing the exoticism of the Mediterranean.

Light and sound reflections where playing a crucial role in amplifying the intimacy of the visitors and stimulating more intense interactions.  

Only this time it is not the distant memory of a romantic trip in the Mediterranean to inspire the behaviour of METAfolly, rather the attempt to find, in the artificiality of the urban and in the abstraction of the computational, a new naturalness.



Slow Prototyping

Trashing is a necessary condition of our society, one that far exceeds the conventional notion of wasting; urban trash incorporates a multi layered assemblage of prod­ucts, landscapes, media content, attitudes and lifestyles. We can re-engineer trash, we can re-cy­cle trash or we can prevent trash to be produced; with this project we made an attempt to accept "trashiness" as a condition of our times, of our society, of our way of producing and consuming, of designing and of manufacturing and building. We decided to take "trash" seriously, with mathematical rigour, digital precision and crafting care. This ambition drove the prototyping of the meta-Folly. Its manufacturing is a meticulous process of manipulation of multiple forms of cheap, mass produced, recycled and in some cases left over material, from the machining of recycled plastic panels to the hacking of cheap Chinese gadgets.

In terms of fabrication and material technologies, such approach leads to a process of 'SLOW-PROTOTYPING', on the development of a dedicated "know how" for the gathering of off the shelf and recycled bits and the detailing their assemblage; by defining a system of transformations of found objects and manufacturing connections between re-cycled parts we finally “knitted” together the pavilion; this ‘slow prototyping’ protocol was deployed in a month long workshop where a team of young architects operated as cyber-craftsmen.

We believe there is no need for fast archi­tecture, like there is no need of fast food, but there is a new need for a slow architecture, able to simultaneously embody the object, the process and the interface.  An architecture that operates like a swarm, or in the swarm; able to convert a multitude of simple instructions into an emergent meta-language of forms, movements and effects.



The prototype

The METAfolly  has an almost square footprint of 2,55 mt times 2,60 mt. However its physical reach is extended by the sensitivity of its 6 hubs, equipped with proximity sensors and able to capture the public's presence at a distance of up to 5 meters ; this means that the overall footprint of the folly extends up to an area of 12 x 12 meters.


The METAfolly has an organic meta-spher­ical shape with 3 interactive access points and two main environments; a central standing niche and two smaller side niches. This 3 type of access guarantee 3 different types of experiences of the space and allow up to 3 visitors to access at the same time.

The highest point of the pavilion is 2,20 mt and is the top of the main space; the niches are 1,85 mt at the top and 45cm from the ground. The main access is 1,75mt allowing easy access to almost anyone while the lower access is 40cm from ground to allow access to kids; the top access is 140cm at the bottom allowing view to any adult or kid lifted by an adult.


Skin tessellation and HUBs

The METAfolly's skin is developed as a mesh of approx. 1300 faces or tiles. Each tile is created by folding a single sheet of polypropylene and connected by a rivet in each of the 3 corners. The area of the tiles ranges between 40 and 300 square centimeters.  The tiles are grouped in 6 hubs or sensitive zones of interaction.


Interactive clusters

Each of the 6 Hubs is subdivided into inter­active clusters made of 5-6-or 7 tiles.  Each cluster is equipped with 1 active tile, containing within itself an active tendril.

The tendril is a unit of interaction and integrates a piezoBuzzer; each tendril is connected to a microproces­sor Arduino and to a set of 3 proximity sensors positioned at the base of each of the 6 HUBs.  There are approx. 300 active tendrils in the METAFolly.




Interactive tile

Each cluster is equipped with 1 active tile, containing within himself an active tendril.  The tile is composed of a single laser cut sheet, folded and held in place by two connectors that also support the internal structure of the tendril.  The system is compact, minimizes material use and protects the electronic parts from external agents.

The tendril hosts the Buzzer into a self-contained unit that terminates with a simple Plug; this facilitates the construc­tion process and also allow simple substitu­tion on any component that could become damaged. Each of the 1300 individual tiles is developed through a custom designed script that allows an ac­curate fabrication via laser cutting.



Fibrous structure

A fibrous system wraps and support the METAfolly. The system composed of steel rods is developed algorithmically as a collection of bundled minimal paths; the paths are the materialisation of the trajectories of both structural loads and information travelling from each tile to the ground, all the way to the base of each of the 6 HUBs.

Minimal paths have been computed from each HUB to all the tiles; the more dense bundles are materialized by mean of bundled steel rod. There are approximately 700 rods in the whole pavilion.



HUBs: structure and bundling logic

A script has been devel­oped to unfold and measure each fibre in the bundle.  A custom designed wire bending machine has been designed and manufactured to bend the wires individually in 3 dimensions accordingly to the angles and lengths provided by the script.

A series of connectors held the fibres in place at each bifurcation point; this gives the bundle cohesion and stiffness. The bundles start at the base of each hub and terminate in each of the vertices of the skin, connecting to the tiles corners.


Space as time / time as sound

Spatial proximity and speed of movement of visitors is sensed by the METAfolly and translated by its microprocessors into time delays to activate the sound loop of each piezo buzzer. This simple mechanism is activated in time by multiple individuals creating an emergent complex behaviour or sound pattern in the METAfolly.

Even each individual sound is of the simplest nature [given the limited range of the piezo Buzzers]; however the interaction in time and space and with the materiality of the tendrils of each of the 300 buzzers produces infinite patterns and sound inflections not dissimilar to the ones produced by a swarm of crickets. Tonalities are altered analogically by introducing acrylic tubes of various lengths at the end of each tendril.



Each tendril hosts a piezo-Buzzer; these components are connected to a microprocessor called Arduino and contained in the base of each HUB; the wires connecting tendril to HUB base follow the same diagram as the structural fibres.

The HUBs' base also hosts a proximity sensors; these sense the visitors and send the signal to the processor that activates the buzzer accordingly to a custom designed pattern.

The visitor then hears the re­sponse and acts accordingly; his/her reaction is then registered and fed back; the loop continues until no more visitors are within the sensitive zone or too many of them overload the system. Multiple behaviours can be tested with simple adjustments to the interaction code.

An interface has been developed to operate the key parameters of interaction and allow quick and intuitive testing of behaviour. Delay mechanism as well as system inertia can be adjusted in real-time.

During Archilab's exhibition the behaviour was set to mimic the one of a swarm of crickets in a field; when no interaction was present speakers would loop in a random sequence; human presence would increase looping time proportional to distance so that closer speakers would turn quiet for a long time; speed of movement and other parameters would then determine the delay before the speaker would resume normal looping time. Overall the swarm would always escape you but with ever-changing behaviour and sound patterns.

Thanks to all the ecoLogicStudio team who has been supporting Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto in the development of the project in the last two years: Andrea Bugli, Philippos Philippidis, Mirco Bianchini, Fabrizio Ceci, Phil Cho, George Dimitrakolous, Manuele Gaioni, Giorgio Badalacchi, Antonio Mularoni, Sara Fernandez, Daniele Borraccino, Paul Serizay, Maria Rojas, Anthi Valavani.

Special Thanks to Nick Puckett for the support with the set up of the interaction system and behaviour.

view related ecoLogic
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The Meta-Folly @ArchiLab9: behaviour

META-Follies - ecoLogicStudio from FRAC Centre on Vimeo.

The Meta-Folly @EastLondon: slow prototyping