AHO studio

The current studio project takes place at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.


AHO Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

Membrane Spaces Studio 2008

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

The Membrane Spaces Studio is offered to master-level students of architecture and industrial design and focuses on new approaches to designing with membranes.

About Membranes

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.
The studio will undertake research into membrane systems leading to design proposals for a number of specific design purposes and briefs, eventually leading to the construction of full-scale prototypes.

About the Studio

The studio will introduce the notion of performance-oriented design and investigate the potential of supplementary spaces and structures to the existing build fabric in order to derive intermediary spaces between interior and exterior that will enable a variety of different uses throughout the seasons. The aim is develop this type of intervention both on an architectural level and with regards to industrial design.

With regards to architecture the challenge is to rethink and counter-act the strict division between inside and outside and the resultant need to have all interior environments heated, cooled and ventilated with electrical and mechanical devices. Students will be asked to select a specific site and a specific set of activities they wish to host and provide for with their supplementary building scheme. With regards to industrial design the challenge will be to design a mass-customisable system for use in the built environment, thus opening up architecture and construction as a viable field for industrial design.

The studio will commence with a set of simple experiments that investigated different geometries for membrane patches, and the way in which different patches can be connected, for instance by means of minimal holes, V-shaped cuts that provide an additional control-point at the end of the resulting flap. The introduction of minimal holes makes it possible to achieve more definition, resulting in more curvature within the system. This approach enables the integration of self-similar manipulations of the form-active tension system which helps, in turn, to achieve varying degrees of permeability of the membrane and exposure of the spaces beyond it. The aim is then to move onto more complex membrane assemblies and arrays, utilising both physical and digital modelling.

Single membrane patches and membrane assemblies will be analysed with regards to their environmental performance, considering their geometry and orientation towards environmental input within a specific context. Spatial, structural, light, shading and airflow studies will serve to inform the design of specific membrane arrangements. The membrane arrangements and overall systems will then become increasingly complex and context-specific, tackling in addition questions of fabrication and assembly. Key manufacturers and key projects will be introduced and wherever feasible visited and the gained knowledge from specific case studies will feed back into the setup of the design process. Integral part of the studio will therefore be the interaction with relevant manufacturing companies in order to inform the design process with manufacturing logics and constraints.

The final aim of the studio is the design and construction of full-scale prototypes at AHO or, wherever possible and feasible in the respective context of the designs.

Students may work in small mixed-expertise teams or individually.

Studio Staff

Prof. Michael U. Hensel
Michael U. Hensel [Dipl. Ing. Grad Dipl Des AA Architekt AKNW] is an architect, writer, researcher, and currently chairman of OCEAN. He is co-founder and co-director of the Emergent Technologies and Design Master Programme at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, Professor ‘Research by Design’ at AHO, the Oslo School of Architecture, and innovation fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney. In addition he is board member of BIONIS – the Biomimetic Network for Industrial Sustainability and editorial board member of AD Wiley and JBE – Journal for Bionic Engineering, Elsevier Scientific Press.
He taught, lectured, exhibited and published world-wide. Recent publications include:
Emergence: Morphogenetic Design Strategies [AD Wiley, London, 2004]; Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design [AD Wiley, London, 2006]; and Morpho-Ecologies [AA Publications, London, 2006]; Versatility & Vicissitude [AD Wiley, London, 2008]; Arch+ Form Follows Performance – Zur Wechselwirkung von Material, Struktur, Umwelt [Arch+, Aachen, 2008].
Forthcoming publications include:
Heterogeneous Space Reader [John Wiley & Sons, London, 2009]; and a new peer-reviewed research journal on research by design in Architecture entitled AD_R [AD Wiley, London, 2009] – Launch Issue:
Research by Design in Architecture.


Prof. Dr. Birger Sevaldson
Birger Sevaldson is a principle researcher in OCEAN and Professor at the Institute of Industrial Design at AHO – Oslo School of Architecture and Design. He is a designer working in a broad field of design and architecture. He has been in private practice since 1986. His practice includes design of lighting armatures and boat design. Birger’s teaching and research interests include digital design processes, time-based design and system thinking. He has been lecturing and teaching in Norway, Europe, Asia and USA and has held a visiting professorship at NACD in Oslo and has been a visiting critic at Syracuse University School of Architecture, USA. He holds a doctorate degree in digital creativity. The thesis is investigating the digital practice developed over years through amongst others the co-operation in OCEAN.


Defne Sunguroğlu
PhD Cand. MSc AA Dipl RIBA II
Defne Sunguroğlu is an architect, principal researcher in OCEAN and innovation fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney. She studied interior Architecture and Architecture Part I at Kent University and completed her Diploma degree at the Architectural Association. She received the Buro Happold Studentship in 2006 to pursue her research into complex brick assemblies, the Holloway Trust Award 2006 for an outstanding contribution to the construction industry, the Anthony Pott Memorial Award 2006 to fund her research on Eladio Dieste’s work, as well as the PMI 2007 Award from the Pottery Mechanics Institute in the industrial category. In 2008 she received a PhD stipend by AHO – the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. She has lectured and taught courses including the AA Summer School Programme and courses in advanced digital modeling and analysis at the Architectural Association. Her work has been published widely including a special issue of AD entitled Versatility & Vicissitude [AD Wiley, London, 2008].


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  • March 2009
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