RCAT - Research Center for Architecture and Tectonics

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[2012 - ongoing]


Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Asst. Prof. Søren S. Sørensen


Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Asst. Prof. Søren S. Sørensen, Asst. Prof. Joakim Hoen, Asst. Prof. Sofia Martins da Cunha, Defne Sunguroglu Hensel, Sareh Saeidi


The ultimate problem for the profession is that of setting out the possibilities and choices in building an environment.

Leslie Martin (1967) RIBA Journal May 1967. From: Peter Carolin and Trevor Dannat Eds. (1996) Architecture, Education and Research - The Work of Leslie Martin: Papers and Selected Articles. London: Academy Editions. 118.

This research area addresses the governmental call concerning the preservation of the environment while having to modify it to provide for a wide variety of needs and requirements. The question is how architecture and urban development can answer this call in different ways that are significantly more sustainable than what is done today. This research progresses in the main through design based inquiry and involves senior researchers, PhD-level research and master-level spectulative designs. Listed below are a series of representative projects that characterize this research

Diploma Project 2017: Encoded Ecologies of the Venetian Lagoon

A multi-scalar data-driven computational approach for dynamic environments

Diploma Student: Matteo Lomaglio

Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Asst. Prof. Søren S. Sørensen

The research that underlies this project combines ecological and architectural scales in approaching the design and transformation of the environment of the Venetian Lagoon. A multi-criteria analysis was undertaken based on contextual data on the lagoon. The complexity of the Venetian lagoon ecosystem is encoded into a set of generative data-driven algorithms that define computational methodologies with the aim to inform architectural strategies within and between different scales. This includes selective preservation and selective transformation in a dynamic and continual strategy for the lagoon, a proposed new botanical garden conceived as a terrain vague, and the architectures and technologies that are key provisions in the process of continual change.This is done through advanced computational design and the proposed utilisation of robotic technologies.

The strategic approach to advanced ecological management and preservation is based on a designed infrastructural network of robotic agents, data centres, research centre and charging stations. The framework was developed based on an optimising algorithm, as far as the coverage area and position are concerned. The entire lagoon is subdivided into 6 main areas and 17 stations for drone and robot recharge, data download and storage. An integrative approach to data defines guidelines for the actuation of data-driven algorithms for the circulation of the proposed robotic agents within the lagoon ecosystem. These are intended to both upkeep and transform the environment. The robotic system does not present a pre-defined set of systematic circulation paths but, instead, a real time data-driven network that informs their actions that can be interacted with by an interdiscplinary team of researchers.

The proposed botanical garden is intended as a 1:1 laboratory for research. The new local Botanical garden arises from the sand banks formations in front of the main waterfront of the city. It is the result of the accumulation of sediments, which made this area not navigable over the last years. Differently from many other island closed to the main island of venice, this local botanical garden will be public for the citizens and tourists, giving first of all a new public park to the city and acting as an element for experiencing the dynamics that act in the lagoon. Because of its particular morphological conditions and their relationship with the tidal phenomena, the garden is conceived as a terrain vague, with indeterminate, blurred boundaries. Its overall formal expression and programmatic layout depends on the variation of those conditions over time. The changes in morphology and water conditions define different areas that are more or less subjected to tide conditions, water stagnation and slope variation. Together with the type of sediments, which constitutes the land, it is possible to analyse different settings for different local species of plants to grow. These rules are also informing the creation and modifications of the walkable paths that are built and modified by robots. Water run-off analysis informs the location of small water channels for controlled irrigation.

The research centre is built into the landscape and unravels in a series of varying curvilinear profiles derived from interpolation of the morphological data and the program requirements. Bathymetry and land formation modifications are simulated based on the actual data of water-flow to analyse the movement of the sediments related to the tide levels.

The architectural proposal for the research centre unveils the ancient and rooted relationship between the built and the natural environment of Venice and the lagoon. The envelope is  generated by way of computational form-finding that involves the structural form, the relationship between the ground and the buildings, and defined views and comfort requirements. The reference to the cusped vault system engenders the integration of the architecture in a new, symbolic, visible and recognizable element in the historical city.

This research brings into focus the potential role of emergent technology in engendering a less anthropocentric and more ecocentric vision and proposes an integrated approach to design at different scales. The integrated associative models and algorithms serve to ensure that all the factors involved can be taken in consideration as heterogeneous but correlated elements, so as to set out a vision for architecture that is informed by specific local conditions, multiple stakeholders and diversifying needs of the users and environment.

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Studio Spring 2016: Embeded Architectures and Productive Landscapes 

Studio Staff: Asst. Prof. Søren S. Sørensen, Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Asst. Prof. Joakim Hoen, Research Fellow Sareh Saeidi, Sofia Martins da Cunha [Snøhetta],

Arduino Workshop: Bjørn Gunnar Staal [Void]

Performative Envelopes Workshop: Research Fellow Sareh Saeidi

Partners + Collaborators:

UniFI - Department of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Systems:

Prof. Federico Preti, Prof. Mauro Agnoletti, Prof. Daniele Penna, Research Fellows Andrea Dani and Enrico Guastini

GECO - Geomatics for Conservation and Communication of Cultural Heritage Laboratory:

Associate Professor Dr. Grazia Tucci

Fattori di Lamole: Paolo Socci

External Examiner: Eli Synnevåg [Snøhetta]

Students: ...

Today the vast amount of architectural effort is focused on urban environments and little attention is given to rural areas that have been cultivated for generations. As the latter are falling into disrepair invaluable resources, insights and knowledge is lost. Much can be learned from the way such landscapes are traditionally articulated so as to be able to yield crops in quality and quantity that otherwise is not possible. The studio will engage with such a productive landscape through carefully designed architectural projects that are embedded within the landscape. In this context the studio will focus on how architectures can be designed for and integrated with these landscapes on multiple levels. The primary question focuses on how cultural landscapes may be understood in their capacity to be productive and how they can be augmented with clearly defined architectural projects. In turn the architectural designs are expected to employ local resources and materials and be strongly integrated in the landscape and utilize similar passive means for modulating micro-climate. The design task is a visitor center with work / research facilities and accommodation for 6 staff members that can be converted into a vacation home of up to 6 family members. The project will comprise of 200m2 of which ca. 1/3 is to be designed as transitional space between exterior and interior. In order to address the architecture, climate and agriculture interaction this site of observation must be extended well beyond the architectural object. This includes an area of at least 10m around the interior and transitional space.

The project site is Fattoria di Lamole in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy.

In September 2016 the studio installed a network of measure-stations on site in Lamole for a period of one year in order to obtain micro-climatic data that facilitate a more nuanced understanding of the terrace and environment interaction, which faciliates the production of red wine at an altitude of 600 meters. The purpose of these measurements in terms of architecture is to understand what range of micro-climatice conditions the proposed architectures need to operate within and be able to privide.

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Studio Spring 2015: Performative Envelopes - Rethinking Architecture from its Boundaries

Studio Staff: Asst. Prof. Søren S. Sørensen, Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Asst. Prof. Joakim Hoen, Research Fellow Sareh Saeidi, Rikard Jaucis [Snøhetta]

Performative Envelopes Workshop: Research Fellow Sareh Saeidi

Arduino Workshop: Bjørn Gunnar Staal [Void]

Virtual Reality Workshop: Asst. Prof. Joakim Hoen

External Examiner: Sofia Martins da Cunha [Snøhetta]

Students: Karen Maria Eiken-Engelgård, Kaia Kristine Giltun, Jørgen Joacim Høy, Karlis Jaunromans, Harri Kaplan, Yue Ma, Milja Malika Tuomivaara

During the fall semester 2015 the studio pursued the design of a small building to be implemented in two sites, first in Skansen as a pavilion for the Oslo Architectural Triennial 2016 and, subsequently, on Langøyene island as an environmental research centre / information pavilion that addresses the issues of landfill and pollution of the island. In addressing two sites the design approach locates itself between the positions of the universal prototype and the one-off tailor made approach to a singular site. This mobility and specificity within a range addresses the thematic of the OAT 2016 entitled ’After belonging’. The studio utilized the theme of multiple building envelopes as the means to organize space and to modulate environment and continued its investigation into data-driven context-specific computational design. One team set out a design system consisting of a climate enclosure consisting of a range of transparent materials and an outer envelope made from textile membranes that modulate the climate in the transitional space between the two envelopes and also that of the enclosed interior. The design system was in each case arranged so as to meet programmatic requirements, as well as associated interior climate demands and was subsequently further elaborated based on computational analysis, and life data feed of environmental data measured on site, as well as data collected from scaled physical models placed on site.

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Design System: building-scale. Development of a design system, consisting of multiple envelops, for adaptation to specific settings within a determined range of conditions. This approach enables an alternative to either universal prototypes or one-off bespoke designs.

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Design System: building-scale. Top: Purpose made measure-stations based on Arduino technology for collecting data on solar exposure of the site and for the purpose of analysing scaled models. Centre and bottom: various instances of analysis of interior light conditions resulting from the site-specific orientation and configuration of the design system.

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Design System: building-scale. Right: Sun-path diagram for site 1 in December. Centre: daylight values measurement on scaled models. Computational daylight analysis based on Grasshopper plug-in Ladybug.

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Design System: building-scale. Adaptation of the design system to site 1 in central Oslo as an exhibition pavilion for the Oslo Architectural Triennial 2016.

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Design System: building-scale. Adaptation of the design system to site 2 as a field research laboratory and information pavilion for Langøyene Island in the Oslo fjord.


Studio Fall 2014: Oslo Eastfjord - Low-rise high Density Architecture and Landscape Integration

Studio Staff: Asst. Prof. Søren S. Sørensen, Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel, Asst. Prof. Joakim Hoen

Virtual Reality Workshop: Asst. Prof. Joakim Hoen

External Examiner: Eli Synnevåg [Snøhetta]

Connected Envelopes

Eskil Landet

This project constitutes design system for low-rise high-density settlement as an alternative to urban sprawl and / or high-rise developments for Oslo, as well as a specific scheme that seeks to showcase how such a project can be articulated in relation to its specific local setting. The steep slope and specific water regime and sensitive areas of vegetation on the site, as well as path inclination analysis for circulation were key input parameters for the associative model set out for the project. Surface water run-off maintains existing trajectories and preservation spots for vegetation and listed buildings, and lowest-inclination pedestrian circulation paths are maintained and implemented. The highly dense residential fabric is interspersed with communal spaces and provisions (such as shared greenhouses and office spaces for hot-desking to avoid extensive commuting), as well as commercial and social provisions. In the conception of this project a new extensive public surface emerges both as a landscape above the built volume and as social communication and circulation space. As such the project favours a fabric that evokes organic growth. The units that constitute this fabric can be used individually or combined according to need. Each unit was further evaluated in terms of accessibility, daylight and thermal exposure and other parameters. In this way the design can unfold top-down from the settlement pattern to the individual units and bottom-up from the individual units to the settlement pattern. Evolutionary algorithms could be deployed to evolve different arrangements that were analysed and rated. This could be done either for the overall settlement, or alternatively, for portions of phased development so as to accommodate change over time.


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Rhino / Grasshopper integrated model: easiest path analysis according to inclination of path.
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Rhino / Grasshopper integrated model: existing and auxiliary surface-water runoff trajectories.

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Settlement-scale. Left: Surface (top) and program (bottom) allocation. Centre: analysis of connectivity of individual units relative to circulation paths. Right: analysis of solar impact on individual units due to terrain inclination and stepping of build volumes.

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Individual unit scale: Multi-modal solar exposure analysis.

Environmental Research Center

Kristoffer Sekkelsten

This scheme projects a new environmental research center located between the nature reserve of Ekeberg and the Fjord. The project overcomes the problem of the automotive infrastructure that transects the site by proposing a landform building that provides an extensive  ecological surface that can be claimed by the specific local ecosystems. Moreover the scheme utilizes the tide in staging a varied interaction between the built and the natural, allowing part of the spaces and infrastructure to be flooded and transformed over time. This constitutes a radical shift from the predominant approach to minimize the impact of both the physical and biological environment in architecture and suggest altogether a different thinking about sustainability with focus on staging and managing processes between the man-made and the natural.

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Diploma Project 2012: Seaside Second Homes for the Southwestern Coast of Norway

Diploma Student: Joakim Hoen - Institute for Architecture

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Michael U. Hensel

This Diploma project is part of the research into how architecture and environment interaction can inform a location-specific approach to design. The Seaside Second Home project combines environmental data and analyses with related spatial strategies and a non-standard approach to the articulation of three individual buildings, each made particular to one of three sites by way of a computational data-driven design process. Programmatically the second homes are a version of the ubiquitous Norwegian seaside holiday cottages that are used during the summer season. However, the projected second homes cater for habitation during all seasons.

The three sites along the Norwegian West and Southwest coast were selected due to their different local terrain articulation and weather conditions and exposure. The aim was to preserve the terrain in a all detail and to use it to inform the design. The specific terrain form of each location was derived from detailed terrain-scans provided by the Norwegian authorities. Local weather data pertaining to the site-specific wind conditions served as input into the generative design process. Solar impact was evaluated by means of computer-aided analysis. The design system for all three variants consists of two envelopes: [1] an outer permeable screen that shelters a transitional zone, and [2] an inner climate envelope of variable thickness. The outer envelope surrounds the inner envelope except for the entrance area, the large glazed elevation facing the sea and the concrete core enclosing the bathroom. The articulation of the outer screen-like envelope concerns primarily the dissipation of horizontal wind loads and modulation of solar impact on the inner envelope. In addition it is articulated in such a manner as to shade the transitional space, while providing sufficient daylight, and to decelerate airflow velocity from the exterior to the transitional space, so as to ensure its useability during different weather conditions. The outer screen-like envelope and the outer surface of the inner envelope articulate the transitional space based on combined spatial requirements, needs for different activities and environmental performance.

The interior is an open space that is articulated as an extension of the landscape and motivated by the notions of the oblique and habitable circulation (Parent and Virilio 1996). The sectional articulation of the landscaped interior is defined and constrained by considerations pertaining to providing or obstructing sightlines by way of the relation between the floor and ceiling surfaces. The variable thickness of the inner envelope evolves on the one hand from the algorithmic procedures pertaining to the outer and inner surface of the inner envelope, and, on the other hand, from the desire to nest smaller spaces for use within the thickness of the envelope, such as alcoves for sleeping reminiscent of traditional Norwegian designs, shelving, etc.

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