Course 4 builds shape-shifting tower

Bexley’s old location was the site of increased activity on April 20 as the Self-Assembly Lab of the Architecture Department prepared for the MIT Open House. The group constructed a 65-foot tower, whose shape initially led to speculation and amusement on the mailing list 420-discuss. However entertaining, the shape, which will be changing multiple times a day, is the tower’s main feature.

The tower is a mesh of 36 PVC pipes connected by hinges to the base ring, enabling it to smoothly reshape itself multiple times a day. The Self-Assembly Lab hopes to gain further insights into the structure’s dynamic properties by load testing it. Through this project, the lab hopes to give a vision for the future of morphable structures and how they could be used as stadium roofs, performance venues, or even display surfaces.

To make such a structure possible, researcher and lab co-director Skylar Tibbits has partnered with two firms, Tait Towers and Atelier One. Tait Towers is a Pennsylvania-based company specializing in setting live stages such as the ones for Taylor Swift, Pope Francis in Madison Square, or the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Atelier One specializes in structural engineering and can count in its portfolio U2, the Rolling Stones, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London 2012 Olympics.

More broadly, the lab is focused on developing structures that can evolve, from 3D-printing foldable structures to self-assembly which involves jittering various components of a design together until they assemble into a final product. Their research also provides visual insight into various microscopic processes, potentially providing new tools to teachers.