Thermochromic Topologies

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Thermochromic Topologies

May 31, 2021 - June 2, 2021

Thermochromic Topologies
Integration of non-visual design parameters into generative design processes and the communication of invisible parameters of thermal comfort via embedded material performance in responsive architectural elements.

With increasing awareness of our environmental responsibilities, architects must seek out alternative solutions to mechanical heating and cooling where possible. The resulting shift in paradigm – from a demand of a homogeneously tempered indoor environment to a heterogeneous field of varying comfort zones – requires new design tools to actively communicate qualities of space. Most thermal comfort parameters are invisible and hard to communicate across distances. This research aims to find solutions for this dilemma while exploring it from the architect’s position. Sustainability, passive environmental strategies and ecological thinking are embraced creatively and innovatively. This pushes the boundaries of design thinking as well as finding new digital fabrication and design methodologies to generate intricate and sustainable ornament. Thermochromic materials change colour when the material’s temperature exceeds a certain threshold. The effect can be a change in hue, saturation or transparency.

The project focused on a change of transparency, where the disappearance of a coating layer reveals the underlying material above a temperature threshold of 27C – the same temperature above which a room’s temperature is widely perceived as uncomfortable. Computational fluid dynamics simulations (CFD) were used to simulate changes in temperature and airflow along surfaces. The experiments were set up in a way that gave each surface distinct topological characters such as density, thickness, directionality, gradient. The results were used as an input for a digital generative design process. The geometries were fabricated using a cnc mill and coated with thermochromic ink. The prototypes were then exposed to heat in a series of experiments and the changing visual appearance is documented systematically using thermal imagery, photos and videos. The gained material was catalogued, compared and knowledge about the relationship between, simulation, prototype and performance was gained.

There is demand for innovative design solutions for communicating environmental conditions and parameters of indoor climate to inhabitants through smart materials and passive strategies. Existing research into thermochromic elements in architecture is often focussing on the technological aspects of surface actuation. This research project investigated the design consequences deriving from a generative design process, that uses invisible environmental parameters to drive performative reliefs.

The results of the project will be exhibited at the department on the third floor. Please adhere to the current COVID-related health and safety regulations (

Project info:

Funding: Tiroler Wissenschaftsförderung (TWF) – Gefördert aus Mitteln des Landes Tirol

Project timeframe: 4/5/2020 – 31/5/2021

Department: Institut für Experimentelle Architektur, AB Hochbau

Principal investigator and project leader: Andreas Körner (§26)

Reasearch assistant: Catalina Tripolt

Acknowledgements: Ernest Hager, Philipp Schwaderer, Jan Contala, Julian Edelmann, Kilian Bauer



May 31, 2021
June 2, 2021
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Institut – Spielwiese
Technikerstraße 21, 3.OG Nord
Innsbruck, 6020 Austria
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Andreas Körner
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