Furl: The EEG-Responsive, Soft Robotics Future Of Architecture

Just because it looks like a sci-fi monster doesn’t mean you won’t be sitting on it in 10 years.

They look like rubber tentacles. They unfurl like tongues. But these organic appendages with “air muscles” that inflate and bubble might just be the future of your office building.


Furl: Soft Pneumatic Pavilion, a graduate project by Bijing Zhang and Francois Mangion at the Interactive Architecture Lab at the Bartlett School of Architecture of University College London, is an exploration of adaptive, soft robotic, “breathing” buildings. It’s part of the responsive architectural trend that includes the use of “biometal” to regulate building temperatures, digital feathers that filter the air, and silkworms that weave pavilions.

These soft robotic components allow for unprecedented ability to bend, fold, change shape, and otherwise adapt to the needs of building occupants. The wagging arms are programmed to read human brain waves.

The “gestures” are programmed when the silicone casts are made, predicting how the arm would move if certain air pockets were inflated. But the actual air flow can be controlled via EEG readings.

A compatible EEG headset picks up the alpha (α), beta (β), delta (δ), and theta (Θ) brain wave levels of the user, and the raw data is then translated to air flow. For example, if a user concentrates, it changes the frequency of their theta brain waves–the “air muscles” fill up with air and the “arms” move.

Now imagine a functional Furl pavilion, the robotic walls morphing according to variety of custom algorithms and the will of its occupants.

“The problem is that robotics and mechanisms are typically rigid, sometimes dangerous, and generally incompatible with close proximate behavior to people. Soft robotics creates a new platform for architecture, to interact much more sensitively and directly to the human body,” Mangion tells We Make Money Not Art. “It might be sometime before such techniques are commonplace but we think it opens up new horizons in biologically inspired architecture, an interdisciplinary approach that could potentially lead to a revolution towards a ‘soft responsive architecture’.”

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Brooklyn based curator, writer and reporter.