Marcelo Coelho Thesis Defense

September 6, 2012


MIT Media Lab, Nagashima Conference Room, E14-525


At the boundary between people, objects, and spaces, we encounter a broad range of surfaces. Their properties perform functional roles such as permeability, comfort, or illumination, while conveying information such as an object’s affordances, composition, or history of use. However, today's surfaces are static and can neither adapt to our changing needs, nor communicate dynamic information and sense user input. As technology advances and we progress towards a world imbued with programmable materials, how will designers create physical surfaces that are adaptive and can take full advantage of our sensory apparatus?

This dissertation looks at this question through the lens of a three-tier methodology consisting of the development of programmable composites; their application in design and architecture; and contextualization through a broader material and surface taxonomy. The focus is placed primarily on how materials and their aggregate surface properties can be used to engage our senses.

Four design implementations are presented, each addressing specific programmable material and surface properties. Surflex, Sprout I/O, and Shutters are continuous surfaces which can change shape to modify their topology, texture, and permeability; and Six-Forty by Four-Eighty is a light-emitting display surface composed of autonomous and reconfigurable physical pixels. The technical and conceptual objectives of these designs are evaluated through exhibitions in a variety of public spaces, such as museums, galleries, fairs, as well as art and design festivals.

This dissertation seeks to provide contributions on multiple levels, including: the development of techniques for the creation and control of programmable surfaces; the definition of a vocabulary and taxonomy to describe and compare previous work in this area; and finally, uncovering design principles for the underlying development of future programmable surface aesthetics.

Host/Chair: Pattie Maes


Neri Oxman, Jeffrey Huang

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