BIOCOOL - Bio-inspired surfaces for evaporative cooling of building envelopes

Due to climate change and the need to reduce the overall energy demand in buildings and avoid urban heat islands, there is an urgent need for further development of passive cooling techniques that reduce energy consumption, support the environment and the ecosystem, and provide a satisfactory level of comfort. The improvement of direct evaporative cooling systems for building envelopes aims at improved effectiveness for use in temperate climates. Bioinspiration has emerged in recent decades as an innovation method for developing sustainable solutions for the built environment.

The BIOCOOL project will explore the transfer of morphological principles from biology to form-optimized architectural surfaces for climate control of building envelopes. In deciduous trees, the shapes of leaves determine the thermal properties and in particular the efficiency of evaporation and thus cooling. Based on existing fundamental research and new insights into these shape principles, parametric design and machine learning are used to fabricate panels of porous materials with 3‑D surface structures. This shape-function relationship, as well as the use of specially adapted ceramic materials with defined porosity and microstructure, is expected to increase the evaporation efficiency of the panels compared to conventional technologies. The performance of the installed prototypes with respect to their thermal properties will be investigated, comparatively evaluated, and sustainable low-tech concepts for system integration will be designed. The integration into the building system, in particular the water cycle and energy management, and the impact on the urban space on pedestrian and neighborhood level will be investigated in concepts and simulations. The building envelope is interpreted as an energy carrier and as an active element in the sense of ecosystem services, and the impact on urban space and environment is assessed in several scales and aspects. The study is conducted by two academic institutions with long experience in energy design and building physics, involving students. The marketability and costeffectiveness of the innovation are ensured through workshops with industry stakeholders. BIOCOOL paves the way for an industrial research project by preparing data on proof-of-concept prototype experiments and analysis on the impact of the new technology. The successful exploration is not only interesting for the building sector, but also for other technology areas where heat exchangers are used, and thus has a large market potential.


Responsive spaces in the era of biomedality

FWF PEEK Funded project 2019 – 2022

Co-corporeality proposes new aesthetic and technological approaches towards re-discussing the role of material systems within architecture, emerging from questions of the terms nature’ and ecology’ brought up by recent discourse in art and architecture. Contrary to conventional building materials, living materials’ have the capability of being tailored and programmed in relation to the environment or specific needs, in order to transform the built environment into a biological entity’ and change the way we understand, observe and communicate with the built space. The project is highly interdisciplinary and located within the domains of architectural design, biochemistry, microbiology and computer science. The project aims to establish an interaction between a human and a living material in order to develop a responsive environment that interacts, learns, grows and decays in relation to human presence and behaviour. The project has three main areas of enquiry:

  1. Entanglement of microorganism and bacteria strains with novel material systems 
  2. Design of interfaces that allow non-verbal communication to evoke changes and responses within the material 
  3. Production of full-scale proto-architectural installations

The discursive nature of the research investigates the effects of the human-microbial relationship as a responsive environment where one biological system (the human) observes another one (a responsive material) and vice versa. The viewer approaches the potential biological subject (the material) through the state of perceptive co-existence and develops a distinct relationship different to that of a dead object or a mere simulation. Conventional research on responsive architecture is mostly based on strictly controlled dependencies, creating kinetic and interactive environments by only using mechanical apparatuses and wide arrays of sensors. The innovative aspect of the Co-corporeality project is to use biotechnical architecture as a discursive platform where technological, biological hybrids generate performative architecture. As such, the concrete effects of this interaction allow for an enhanced perception of space-comprising factors of non-verbal communication including haptics (touch), kinetics (body movement), proxemics (human presence), and especially oculesics (eye contact, patterns of fixations).



University of Applied Arts: Barbara Imhof, Daniela Mitterberger, Tiziano Derme, Damjan Minovski, Patricia Tibu, Xavier Madden
Austrian Institute for Artificial Intelligence: Robert Trappl, Martin Gasser,
University of Innsbruck Department of Microbiology: Heribert Insam, Mag. Dr. Judith Ascher-Jenull, Carolin Garmsiri
University of Vienna – Department of Materials Chemistry : Alexander Bismarck, Neptun Yousefi, Anne Zhao
University of Vienna, Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science, Division of Microbial Ecology, David Berry, Andreas Heberlein

Vibrant Fields

Vibrant Fields is an art-research project focusing on understanding climate change through artistic means.

The Influence of climatic conditions has various effects on population and population density. We can observe a direct relationship between the world distribution of urban sprawl and the respected isotherms. It is part of the argument that these isotherms are constantly moving and put tension on the current state of urbanization. Human society can only put two strategic logics into the process: Moving with the isotherm or adapting to the new climatic conditions.

Vibrant Fields hypothesizes the urban nature to be an amalgam of biological and artificially produced and technologically mediated matter that share a symbiotic life cycle within the same environment. Only by systematically understanding their relationships, we can contribute to a holistic image illuminating the influence of climate change. The main question becomes how atmospheric effects influence the living and non-living participants of the urban realm and how will they adapt to climate change.

The project aims to unravel principles of adaptation of urban metabolism as a response to energy flows. This will be achieved through observing biological and technological components of cities under extreme climatic pressure within distinct isotherms. Accordingly, dynamic events of exchange in between the components of the urban nature will be analyzed as flows of energy and information. We aim to capture stimuli, impulses, and catalysts by reducing the information to streams of measured data and by increasing the resolution of urban information.

New ways of measuring urban events will be investigated, by developing an apparatus for capturing the energy flows and transforming this information into artistic expression. Certain information such as ultrasonic waves or infrared waves which are very important in animal and botanical life are not in the human sense-able spectrum at all. Phenomena such as climate change are hard to understand, as it can only be perceived. Art has the power to augment the human experience by extending the limits of sensory impressions. In this sense data will not only be observed, collected and processed, yet, will be translated into a unique and intriguing experience. By designing transmedia art that is in continuous flux, the adaptive behavior shaped by the information of distinct environments will be explored.

Consequently, a new method of surveying the urban realm is proposed, by perceiving the built environment and its inhabitants as equal vibrant matter. Accordingly, a new theoretical cartography of interdependent systems will be established, synergizing cross-disciplinary methods of science, art, and architecture in relation to society, biology, and technology.

Immersive Installation on understanding Energy Flows in Vienna Design Week

The Research team Vibrant Fields at the University of Applied Arts Vienna in collaboration with Department of Structural Design and Timber Engineering in TU Wien created an exhibition for Vienna Design Week that explores the transience of energy by artistic means. 

Vibrant Fields team developed an artificially constructed micro cosmos of different indoor climatic zones inhabited by natural and artificial agents to observe and visualize their interaction and reaction to visitors during the Vienna Design Week.

The Vibrant Fields team chose varied forms of visualizing energy flows ranging from a series of real time projections and to shape changing wax sculptures reacting to the changing climate inside the exhibition space.

The Vibrant Fields team equipped the exhibition space with self-designed sensory apparatuses to sense and record energy flows in different locations of the space. The graphics projected on the walls of exhibition space visualize real time changes of the internal climate providing information about different streams of energetic data. The aim of the visualizations is to provide general public with a representation of energy flows using an artistic language rather than conventional data visualization techniques. In this sense the energy data generated an interactive artwork, visualizing different streams of sensor data such as temperature, humidity, as well as different gases in the space.

The second projection visualizes a real time 3d Scan of the exhibition space as a heat map. The visitors can inspect the relation of their body temperature to the temperature in the exhibition space.

In addition to real-time interactive visualizations, the wax sculptures designed by the students of Department of Structural Design and Timber Engineering in TU Wien, visualize the climatic change inside the exhibitions space in a delayed transmission. The branching wax sculpture inspired by coral reefs. The coral reefs sensitivity to changes in water temperature is referenced in the ephemeral materiality of wax and its malleability. On the other hand, On the other hand, wax is a versatile material that can be 100% recycled and reshaped. Accordingly, the projects explore new material futures in which design is more of a versatile system than a fixed solution.

As part of the exhibition the wax sculptures melt and deform a reaction to changing temperature in the space and document the temperature shifts in its changing shape. 

The Vibrant Fields team aims to change the visitors’ perspectives of their immediate environment, and so provide an accessible and graspable view on climate through the lens of energy flows.