RCAT - Research Center for Architecture and Tectonics

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Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel + Research Fellow Defne Sunguroğlu Hensel


Prof. Emeritus Dr. George Jeronimidis

Asst. Prof. Joakim Wiig Hoen


Research commenced in 2009 - ongoing


The altered environmental conditions of today can no longer be mastered with the architectural resources of the past … Though architecture today does not fulfil its task, it is nevertheless the only decidedly peaceful profession in which synthetic thinking can be exercised on a large project without hindrance …The relationship between biology and building is now in need of clarification due to real and practical exigencies. The problem of environment has never before been such a threat to existence. In effect, it is a biological problem.

Otto, F. 1971. IL3 Biology and Building Part 1StuttgartUniversity of Stuttgart, p. 7.

The research comprised under the title Biological Systems Analysis is predicated on the understanding that the way livining systems and their specific environment act and mutually affect and shape one another can provide insights in how architectures and their specific environments interact. Inspired by the work of Frei Otto, the Institute of Lightweight Structures in Stuttgart and the SFB 230, the research focuses on a range of morphologies of living systems and the combined influence of the biological and physical environments on their specific articulation. Computational modeling and analysis play a key role in this line of inquiry.

The research is undertaken in part in a series of master-level courses. 


Course Staff: Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Defne Sunguroğlu Hensel

Course Participants: Andreas Amasalidis, Carmen Bruno, Kaipei Feng, Benedikt Hartl, Carina Thurner

The 2009 course focused on a detailed geometric analysis and digital modelling of the globular shells or 'tests' of regular sea urchins. The shells of sea urchins displays a high degree of geometric articulation, based on a five-fold symmetry (pentamerism) and comprises of hexagonal plates of calcium carbonate. 

The modelling digital modelling was undertaken in three steps. The first step comprised of a geometric analysis that delivered general principles that served to derive an 'idealised' model in Rhino. In a second step an individual specimen was digitized using a Micro-scribe digitzer. Since the digitizer interfaces with Rhino the reference points for a digital model of the specific specimen are directly available in Rhino. In the final modeling step an associative model is made in Grasshopper that utilises the reference points to accomplish a faithful model of the morphology of the selected specimen.

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Fig. 1: Associative Computational Model of a sea urchin shell (Sphaerechinus Granularis)

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Fig.2: Analysis of a sea urchin shell (Phyllacanthus Imperialis)


Course Staff: Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Defne Sunguroğlu Hensel

Students: Matthew Anderson, Jon Lunde Arneberg, Frederik Lid, Birte Mügge, Helder Neves, Anders Strand Lühr, Adrian Zimmermann

The 2009 course focused on a detailed analysis of parts of various plant species, including the Thika nut of the Raffia palm tree (Raphia farinifera).

The shell of the Thika nut displays a high degree of geometric articulation, based on the clockwise and counter-clockwise spiralling arrangement of what appears at first sight as scales. Sections through the shell reveal that the fibrous material is layered in an intricate manner and the inside of the outer shell shows no resemblance with its outer articulation.

The aim of this research was twofold: firstly to investigate the fibre lay-ups in the different layers of the nutshell, and secondly to establish which approach to digitally modelling the morphology of the Thika nut may result in an instrumental geometric digital model to support the further research. A number of different modelling strategies were experimented with in order to construct a digital model of the Thika nut, including 3d-scanning, digitizing with a mechanical digitizer, as well as deducing geometric principle in order to construct a digital model from scratch based on these geometric principles. Based on the latter, scripting and associative modelling methods were deployed to model the intricate layered outer shell.

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Fig. 3: Analysis of the material composition and geometry of a Thika nut (Raphia farinifera).