Q: In what circumstances are composites well-suited to architecture?
A: It takes some tenacity to convince the person who is inspecting your design to let you put composites where they really should be. Right now, it’s very easy to use them for cladding, rain screens and interior finishes below a certain thickness. Historic preservation is almost all composites… . That’s the low-hanging fruit. Where it really gets interesting is in a high-rise building, constructing the upper floors with a 20 to 30 percent weight savings in secondary structure and the primary building envelope. The earthquake loads reduce exponentially with a reduction of mass up high due to inertia.
Q: What is some of the high-reaching fruit you are pursuing?
A: Vertical circulation in buildings is something we are thinking about with Piaggio Fast Forward and will be launching in early 2017. The same way you have ducts, plumbing and wiring for building services, we’re looking at ways to have lightweight composite vehicular circulation in buildings for moving goods around. Think about the bank where you have a pneumatic tube move transactions and just scale that up to something the size of a table or chair so you’re able to move things around within a building. Eventually, we’ll look at moving people around in buildings that way, too.
Q: Another innovative project you talked about in your CAMX presentation was the microclimate chair. Can you talk a bit more about that?
A: I’m working with Nike on a microclimate chair for athletes that is inspired by, but not limited to, basketball players during the game. We’ve integrated sensing control systems into a single composite shell and take advantage of the conductivity of carbon to produce a temperature and humidity-controlled microclimate. The chair senses temperature, moisture, weight, pressure and movement, then feeds that information into a small processor. You get a baseline and then measure how an athlete’s body is changing during the game and modify the temperature and air flow of the chair surface accordingly to bring down the core body temperature, while heating up a certain muscle group so the athlete doesn’t cramp up.
What I think is most interesting about this is the material. I believe it’s the first continuously changing, hard-to-soft material that’s been done with a composite. It was created with two resin systems and North TPT (Thin Ply Technology) prepreg tape technology, with laminated Peltier [thermoelectric cooling] chips built in.