Smarter Buildings: USC Architect Doris Sung

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USC architect Doris Kim Sung wants to make buildings that automatically respond to changes in the environment.

“For a long time, my work has examined why architecture is static and nonresponsive, and why it can’t be more flexible like clothing,” Sung said. “Why do we have to adapt to architecture rather than architecture responding to us? Why can’t buildings be animated?”

Sung hit upon a material that had never before been used in architecture: a metal alloy that responds automatically to changes in air temperature and heat.

Commonly used for the coil in a thermostat, “thermobimetal” is made of two sheets of metal laminated together. Each metal expands at a different rate when heated, curling as the temperature rises and flattening when cooled.

But the possibilities for buildings are even broader, especially since thermobimetal is not just completely zero-energy but actually reacts to changing environmental conditions. Imagine a canopy that curls shut when the sun is directly overhead, or a vent that opens automatically to let out hot air when it gets a bit stuffy inside.

With “Bloom,” a 20-foot-tall undulating installation in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, Sung has made these ideas a reality.

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