Mapping Responsive Envelopes: Material culture evolution and climatically responsive building facades

Sean Cullen, Greg Keeffe, Oliver Kinnane

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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This research paper proposes the transfer of biological evolutionary methods to the field of climatically responsive building facades. Through charting their trajectories and situating them across the physical and biological sciences, the paper will explore knowledge transfer, historical flows and the fate of information from a sustainable perspective. Despite similarities to biological evolutionary processes, the application of biological methods does not directly correlate to responsive building facades. Through a database of precedents and projects, a hybridized method of mapping will be developed as a means towards understanding the genus of ideas, mutation, and selection within this process so as to establish to what degree it is similar to that of biological systems as well as Gould and Elderedge’s (1972) theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’. ‘Punctuated equilibrium’ states that evolution within biological systems occurs in short, sharp bursts after long periods of inactivity, contradicting orthodoxy of evolution as a slow, gradual process. This theory proves correct for climatically responsive facades due to the convergence of technology with cultural awareness for environmentally conscious architecture. Temkin and Eldredge (2007), in their application of phylogenetic analysis on musical instruments, identified lateral exchange of information as the most significant factor in material culture systems.
Through developing a hybridized map of climatically responsive facades, this research will indicate characteristics, ideas, and historical flows of information as well as their subsequent fate. Within material culture there is considerable conservatism, pointing to selection by designers and manufacturers as an inhibitor of evolution. As a result, this process identifies new architectural connections and areas of focus where distinct innovation may occur.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFace Time: The Emergence of the Facade as the Integrative Factor in Holistic Building Design
EditorsDouglas Noble, Karen Kensek, Sherya Das
Place of PublicationLos Angeles
PublisherTectonic Press
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)978-1-882352-43-2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2016
EventFacade Tectonics 2016 World Congress - Sheraton Grand Hotel Los Angeles, Los Angeles, United States
Duration: 10 Oct 201611 Oct 2016


ConferenceFacade Tectonics 2016 World Congress
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLos Angeles
Internet address


  • History of facades
  • climatically adaptive
  • façade theory
  • material culture evolution


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