About Membrane Spaces

The Membrane Spaces blog is run by the OCEAN research network. Its purpose is to serve as a platform for the research and development of differentiated membrane systems. It also serves as a platform for education, most recently for the Membrane Spaces Studio at AHO Oslo School of Architecture and Design.
The Membrane Spaces blog is edited by Birger Sevaldson and Michael Hensel.

The works in the research section includes research and the educational activities at the Architectural Association [London] [Dip4 Morpho-Ecologies Research and the Emergent Technologies and Design Master Programme], AHO – the Oslo School of Architecture and Design [Norway], the Rice School of Architecture [Houston, Texas, USDA], the Rotterdam Academy of Architecture and Urban Design [The Netherlands], and UTS the University of Technology in Sydney [Australia].

The works in the project section includes works of OCEAN and also works from the schools and universities listed above.

About Membranes

The history of development of humanity would be barely conceivable without free spanning textile Membrane structures. Diether S. Hoppe

Building with membranes is emerging from the shadow of the early pioneering achievements. Several decades of practical experience have led to a technology that is future-oriented and that deserves to be more widely established… Klaus-Michael Koch

A membrane is a thin, synthetic or natural, pliable material that constitutes the lightest material means for spatial organization and environmental modulation. Membrane systems are well suited for a wide range of uses in relation to the built environment, both as self-contained architectures or as supplementary intermediate spatial interventions within cities. Such supplementary architectures provide potential for a different approach to environmentally sustainable design and, moreover, to change our cities aesthetically, functionally and socially, through spaces that explore provisions for new social formations and programmatic appropriation. Such spaces are in great need if one considers even simple examples, such as for instance to provide outdoor spaces for smokers, which are currently barely satisfactory at any level of comfort and design.

Membranes have great potential to be used in circumstances in which lightweight solutions to spatial arrangement and environmental performance are required. Structurally membranes belong to form-active tension systems: they transmit only tensile forces, shape according to the applied forces into minimal surfaces, and more specifically double-curved anticlastic or saddle-shape surfaces, and register manipulations throughout the entire system. In order for a membrane to be in tension and thus structurally active, there needs to be equilibrium of tensile forces throughout the system: if this is not the case, the membrane will typically show flat or wrinkled regions. This implies that the membrane’s shape and extent must be established as part of the solution, and specifically that membrane systems must be form-found, utilising the self-organisational behaviour of membranes under extrinsic influences such as by applying tensile forces, and by constraining the membrane via specifically chosen control points. In these points the tensile forces are collected and transmitted. Membranes are therefore defined through the displacement of particular boundary points and the pre-tensioning forces, which are directly correlated with the material form. The form of a membrane can thus be found as the state of equilibrium of internal resistances and external forces.

Techniques for the physically form finding of form-active tension systems have been developed by Frei Otto and his collaborators at the Institute of Lightweight Structures in Stuttgart for the task of the optimisation of lightweight structures. Today form-finding processes include both physical form-finding methods and digital modelling by means of dynamic relaxation. Dynamic relaxation is a finite element method involving a digital mesh that settles into an equilibrium state through iterative calculations based on the specific elasticity and material properties of the membrane, combined with the designation of boundary points and related forces.

Form-finding as a design method can now be extended beyond single optimisation and can begin to facilitate the design of more complex performative arrangements. Complex arrangements can acquire hierarchies of articulation, for instance in combination with other systems, such as cable-nets with arrays of membranes set within, leading to multiple-hierarchy form-finding. The combination of several performance criteria into a form-finding process introduces the second crucial extension to traditional form-finding techniques: multiple-objective form finding. The combination of the two contributions is then multiple-objective form-finding across multiple hierarchies that define a complex system.


OCEAN is an independent, international and interdisciplinary research network that conducts research be design.
The network has currently 20 members and is active in 8 locations, including Frankfurt, Istanbul, London, Oslo, Paris, Rome, Sydney and Tel Aviv.
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  • March 2009
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