In the garden of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum stands the Elytra Filament Pavilion, a 2,000-square-foot canopy named for—and designed after—a beetle’s elytron, the insect’s fibrous, double-layered forewings. But it’s not finished. In the months ahead, the structure will adapt and grow in response to the people who visit it.

By looks alone, the pavilion is imposing. The structure’s 40 lightweight components cast a wide, geometric shadow across the garden’s expansive lawn. But its engineering is even more impressive. A gigantic robotic arm assembles each hexagonal module out of a double-layered carbon- and glass-fiber web. The modules weigh just 99 pounds apiece, putting the entire structure in the neighborhood of 5,400 pounds—or about the same weight as just 21 square feet of the museum’s stone facade. That makes the Elytra about 100 times lighter, per square foot.

But the pavilion’s first 40 modules were just the first step. “You can think of pavilion as a living experiment, using the garden as a laboratory,” says Achim Menges, director of the Institute for Computational Design in Stuttgart, where the pavilion was born. In the coming months, Menges’ team will add modules that look very different, shaped by two new data inputs: environmental factors like temperature and forces exerted on the pavilion, and the behaviors of people who interact with it.

The canopy itself is already collecting that data. It sounds creepy, but it’s actually pretty awesome: Thermal imaging cameras embedded in the Elytra pavilion track the movements of visitors—where they go, how long they linger, where groups tend to convene. Fiber optic sensors woven into the structure measure temperature and internal forces. Menges says this data will allow his team to use environmental and human factors to generate an algorithm that dictates the form of new components, and fabricate them on-site.

What will those new modules look like? “You’re going to have to ask me in two months,” Menges says. “Right now it would be wild speculation.” For now, the pavilion will remain in the garden, a nice spot for shade—with a lot of potential for growth.

Originally posted here: 

A Garden Canopy Evolves in Response to the People Inside