Architecture Mimics Molecules

Loop.ph are a design studio set up in 2003 by Rachel Wingfield and Mathias Gmachl. One clue to the role that science plays in their work can be found in the names of the commissions: Metabolic Media; Botanical Scan; BioWall.  ‘We do a lot of research and collaborate with a lot of scientists. We both have a really keen interest in science, using it both as an inspiration and also as a big field of potential collaborators,’ says Mathias Gachl. ‘Most of the work that we do in a scientific context is sometimes called ‘public outreach’, taking quite complex new scientific discoveries and bringing them into the public in a way which is more easily understood.’

Indeed, their current work, the SOL dome, combines the large scale with the future-facing. It was created for the ‘Fall In…Art and Sol’ festival in the US Great Lakes region. The festival describes itself as a ‘celebration of art, culture, science’, and the SOL dome does this through Loop.Ph’s ongoing interest in new materials. Eight metres in diameter, four metres high and weighing a remarkably light 40kg, the SOL dome has a responsive light system animating it. The animation of the structure is an expression of a CO2 sensor that captures data from the immediate environment. The amount of carbon in the air will make different fibres light up in the dome. The animation is powered by solar energy stored in photovoltaic cells during the day. 

The structure tries to use the minimum amount of materials and energy, and the SOL dome is also very much aware of the current state of energy renewables. ‘It’s also looking at a way of storing energy as chemical energy which is the way that living organisms store energy, and the way that we haven’t really been able to harness through our technology,’ explains Gmachl. One of the problems says Gmachl is that there is a bottleneck with technology such as solar power and that is the batteries needed, ‘if you need a constant horsepower you need to find a way to store it and up to the present day we don’t really have battery technology that is cheap enough to really make solar power scalable.’ 

‘Material science is going through a real golden age at the moment,’ says Gmachl, ‘that’s something that we look at a lot. If you are looking at material science then a lot of it happens on an atomic, molecular scale. The construction technique that was used for the SOL Dome is basically taking some molecular construction principles and scaling them up.’ In building the structure they have used a method they have developed called ‘Archilace’. It combines textile construction principles with new composite materials, and then expands them to architectural size. ‘The textile element is an important strand in our research particularly in the context of architecture,’ explains Gmachl. They have described it a lace-making on an Architectural scale. 

The next project they are working on is a ‘big water and light lab in London. It will be mobile, so we are looking at water and light-based technologies in the context of sustainable cities and redeveloping cities for the future.’

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