PhD Research: Design behaving according to nature

Research and Innovation

Imagine a ceiling in your home with butterfly-like textiles reacting according to the wind outside. Or a window curtain based on Arabian lattice work that reacts to the level of sunlight. In a thesis developed at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, textile designer Aurélie Mossé shows how the inventive use of smart textiles can reconnect the home and its inhabitants with nature.


“Gossamer Timescapes: Designing Self-actuated Textiles for the Home” is a practice-led and design-based PhD in the intersection of textile design, architecture and smart technologies. The thesis made by textile designer Aurélie Mossé has just been defended at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in Copenhagen.

The word “Gossamer” in the title, usually stands for the very fine silk threads spun by spiders to design refined nets, but also to the kiting technique used for their aerial displacements. In this context the word works as a metaphor for what is at stake in the research project. Smart materials are used in a new way due to their ability to change in response to stimuli in their environment. This creates new “strings” or openings pointing out to new potentials of shapes and functions.


Bringing the rhythm of nature into the home

At the core of the research project are several experiments done by the writer, among these the project entitled “Reef”. The aim of the project was to create a natural sense of time within a building. By placing a wind sensor outside of the building, codes of the behavior of the wind was recorded and transmitted through a micro-controller  to material forms in the ceiling of the building, which were poetically shaped like butterfly wings or small lungs. They would react slowly to the transmissions from the outside.

Another project is “Photovoltaic Mashrabiya”, in which Mossé was inspired by the traditional Arabian lattice work “Mashrabiya”. She explored how a photovoltaic textile would change shape and produce electricity according to the solar rhythms. The textile acted as a filter adjusting daylight, solar heating and privacy within the interior. As sunshine peaked, the textile unfurled as to extend its surface of energy production while preventing solar heating within the interior. When sunshine diminished the textile furled back to make the best out of the daylight.

In this way design is influenced by time and will not, in contrast to the usual conception of architectural / design solutions, be stable, but flexible and responding. A central point has been to develop textiles of a really distinct poetic quality that behave according to the temporality of nature.

Photovoltaic Mashrabiya

Pointing to the future

Though much of the research done is primary research, projects like the “Photovoltaic Mashrabiya” or ‘Reef’ suggest potential applications that could be produced within a near to medium term future. The thesis points at much further reflections about integrating nature in contemporary life and the crafting of self-actuated textiles in the perspective of more resilient futures, such as considering the solutions as embedded in a holistic ecology.

Aurélie Mossé is currently employed as a teacher and researcher at École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

Photovoltaic Mashrabiya

About the production of the thesis

The PhD project was supported by the Danish Agency for Research and Innovation and Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture in Copenhagen.

It was executed at Center for IT and Architecture (CITA) and Textiles Futures Research Group (TFRG).