This Origami-Inspired Office Design Expands, Contracts, And Changes Its Shape

Want more room? Not a problem. Using drones and inflatable balloon-type devices, a new kind of transformable architecture could create buildings that morph to meet our needs.

Right now, a building might be considered “smart” if it can autonomously adjust its internal systems, like the lighting or, say, the air conditioning above a particular employee’s desk. But the smart buildings of the future may use sensors to control architecture itself. A new prototype from students at Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia shows how a shape-shifting building might work.


Eventually, if an office suddenly needs to accommodate more people, the building’s walls could expand. And if a space needs to warm up, the walls and ceiling could contract. If a building needs more insulation, walls could automatically thicken. If a room needs more light, the walls could get thinner to let in the sun.

“Transformable architecture intends to attune buildings with their environment and/or their users,” says Efilena Baseta, a student in IAAC’s Master in Advanced Architecture program, who is working on the research with fellow students Ece Tankal and Ramin Shambayati. “Interaction and responsiveness will give buildings the ability to interpret data into transformations.”

In the students’ prototype, an origami-inspired structure made with special adaptable joints can change shape when it’s heated up. Underneath the structure, balloon-like devices inflate to push the walls and ceiling outward. Outside, drones attach to each joint to adjust the experimental building further, pulling it into the perfect new shape.

“We made different scenarios according to different sites and cases,” Baseta explains. “We propose inflation during the erecting process of the envelope, in order to give the initial shape. After having that set, drones can be activated to transform this initial shape according to the needs.”

The shape of the prototype allows it to expand to four times its original size, and then shrink down again when needed. Next, the students plan to experiment with different designs. “Using triangular origami tessellation was a quick solution to an expandable pattern,” Baseta says. “We would like to design our own pattern and apply the same philosophy.”

They’re also testing how different materials can hold up to constantly changing shape, and eventually hope to test the technology on bigger structures.


The project was supervised by Areti Markopoulou, Alexandre Dubor, and Moritz Begle.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.