Tropism & Bending in Nature

This was an invited blog post on the theme ‘bending’ for UTSOA’s The Collective:

Tropism is a phenomenon in nature whereby plants deform in response to environmental forces.  The taxonomy of tropisms is organized predominantly by stimulus from Geotropism, movement or growth in response to gravity, to Thermotropism, movement in response to temperature (and on and on: Chemotropism, Hydrotropism, Heliotropism, Thigmotropism…) .  The net effect is that natural systems have evolved to interact dynamically with their environment; constantly adapting, adjusting, shrinking, thinning and growing in response to external conditions.   The evolution of our own culture of building systems is following a similar path as we leave behind blanket approaches to environmental systems that overlook the genius loci of given sites.  One of the great hopes for architecture is the potential for new technology to engender an architectural tropism of sorts. If digital responsiveness can be infused into the physical; buildings can be in constant vibration, constant synergy with the environment.  Skin systems can open and close like pores to regulate moisture, dynamic shading devices can act like feathers or scales to regulate light and breezes, envelopes can thicken in response to extreme hot and cold.  Buildings can leave behind permanence in lieu of the many joys of bending to the provisional.

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