Morphologic Panelized System

Morphologic Panelized System

– Author: Christopher Voltl

 – Function : Wall System

– Site location: San Diego, California

– Year : 2015

– Institution: Newschool of Architecture and Design

– Nationality : American

– Contacts:

– City and date of birth : 1989

– Tutors: Vuslat Demircay Thesis advising from Casey Mahon

For this project looking into taking inspiration from elements in nature was the key aspect, by looking at the sea urchin this project was able to take the efficient qualities that are inherent to this Echinoderm and apply them to the built environment.   The sea urchin has many characteristics that can be useful as a solution to a technical problem.  Similar to a building a sea urchin has to adapt to the site conditions but unlike the static nature of a building structure, the sea urchin adapts continuously due to evolutionary processes.  The skeleton has evolved to a complex arrangement of modular plates that form a discontinuous geometric shell, allowing for the shear forces to isolate in between each polygon where the connection is interlocking similar to fingers.  The geometrical arrangement allows three different panels to align up to each other allowing for a higher bearing load.   Since the edges act as hinges and allow for this species to grow and morph over time without folding in on itself, there has to be a force that acts internally within the panels, this is where the porous structure has its function.  This inner configuration provides a lighter overall weight while being able to distribute the internal forces more even that a solid wall.

Semi-Regular Tessellation . Analyzation of the sea urchin has shown that the plate shell is based off a polygon arrangement

Semi-Regular Tessellation . Analyzation of the sea urchin has shown that the plate shell is based off a polygon arrangement


Of using a Weaire-Phelan geometric tessellation which is defined in the construction of the how soap bubbles geometric formation comes together, this is important because in the analyzation of the sea urchin skeleton there are limited mathematical possibilities in which the undgalating geometry can be compiled of due to the nature of how these geometries can come together and produce a one-hundred percent space filling tessellation.



How the weaire-phelan relates to the sea urchin geometry it that in the structural porosity, there are definitive locations in which the geometry showcases polygonal shaping.  A requirement in creating a geometry that would create similar results would be to find a space filling geometry that had similar sized faces. (Pearce 1990)  This eliminates the truncated octahedra and the rhombic dodecahedron, due to the faces not having similar length edges on the faces and creating a pattern of faces that vary too much in terms of area.

Now just using this tessellation does not fulfill the requirements of the sea urchin, being that the sea urchin represents curvature instead of the rectilinear shape the weaire-phelan geometry gives.  This leads to subdividing each individual surface in the tessellation to create a uniform single surface that can represent the characteristics of the in the sea urchin.


This project is an attempt in showcasing the inspiration from nature and using the geometric configuration to create a modular wall system that uses less material than current systems in place while also providing a system that can be used in straight, curved and doubly-curved walls.

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References: Pearce, P. (1990). A Theory of Structure. In Structure in nature is a strategy for design. Cambridge: MIT Press.