Robotic shading and smart facade materials that breathe could cool buildings by up to 5°C and reduce the need for airconditioning by 25 per cent, according to the Spain’s Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC).

The research centre has developed five new technologies based on “bioclimatic architecture” that it says could be the future of passive cooling and ventilation.

The early-stage technologies, created by students of the Digital Matter Intelligent Constructions studio, are based on new materials that mimic organic processes, as well as adaptive structures or robotic systems that can help to regulate indoor temperatures.


The first of three “second skin” facade systems is Hydroceramics, a facade system made of clay panels, fabric and hydrogel, which has the potential to cool a building space by up to 5°C.

The hydrogel capsules can absorb up to 500 their own volume in water – leading to a building “skin” that can “breathe” through evaporation and perspiration.

“Having in mind that the composite material has very low cost production and the clay natural resources is still abundant, the system can easily be applied to architecture in remote area.”

Breathing Skin

 The Breathing Skin system is based on materials composed by thin membranes and intelligent fabrics, which can self-regulate humidity and indoor and outdoor climates.

Sodium polyacrylate is the major material for the skin system, which can absorb water up to 300 times its volume in a short timespan, and is encapsulated with elastic fabrics.

“Water-driven Breathing Skin is developed to be a semi-passive material system for outdoor spaces in hot climates where public space is less welcomed due to the summer heat. With the material system, ventilation and evaporative cooling are made possible semi-passively in a tensile-structured form where the Breathing Skin could take in multiple uses and forms. Not only is it cost-effective in construction and maintenance, energy-efficient for areas in water shortage but also tensile and pliable for urban spaces.”


Developed for hot and humid conditions, the hydromembrane is a humidity sensitive composite system consisting of six layers and merging three materials with significantly different physical and chemical features.

“The Hydromembrane reacts to moisture as the input and responds with aperture deformations as a primer output. A secondary cooling effect appears due to the Hydromorph’s property of water absorption and evaporation … The Hydromembrane is highly shape adaptive due to its flexibility and thinness. It can be applied as a second skin to existing buildings or as a smart textile.”

Soft Robotics

The next two technologies involve structures and applied robotics to control the quantity of light and heat entering indoor spaces.

Soft Robotics is a lightweight passive shading device developed to control sunlight, ventilation and temperature, and to provide humidity.

“This robotic prototype adopts several sizes and shapes to mimic artificial ‘sunflowers; that are able to activate the shading technology at the time the liquid integrated in the device is evaporated by the sun’s heat.”


Morphluid is is also based on the transition of a liquid to gas, which modulates a roof to provide shading.

“Morphluid integrates two water tanks integrated into a mobile structure (a roof slope or a window) that tips when the water of one of the tanks evaporates, thus allowing shade to project and cool the environment.”

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  1. Watched with amazement the scientific genius at work in the videos, however the practical applications for buildings are scary.

    Phil Wilkinson Past President of the Australian Institute of Refrigeration Airconditioning and Heating(AIRAH) made an interesting comment, don’t worry Phil, your AIRAH members won’t be threatened by this technology.

    As Phil is aware, there are very efficient and environmentally friendly airconditioning systems using new technologies on the horizon that will replace systems installed now.

    These new type of airconditioning systems will be more robust and retrofit into existing ducted airconditioning systems than what the new technologies shown in this article that may not be suited to a ducted system.

    Perhaps AIRAH may liaise with the Fifth Estate to write a story on the upcoming devices.

    However, the efficiency of the actual ducting tube is mostly the weak link in any system.

    This weak link, mostly the tubing Phil, your organization AIRAH with our climate changing and our exposure to solar radiation in general which is increasing, will not support high solar radiation testing in- situ of a flexible ducting system in a climate simulator, because that will reveal fibrous bulk insulation around ducting tubing more so is failing to protect the chilled air moving through the system.

    The ABCB (2011 report) established that ducted airconditioning and heating systems, 97% of the cooling/heating is lost through the ductwork.

    The public aren’t told yet, everyone in industry knows this, no one wants to break ranks and truly address the problem correctly. WHY?

    Some of this new revealed technology I believe mimics the Coolgardie safe principle nothing is new, except better materials used in different configurations, with the possibility of increased humidity and mold on these new system components or structural components of buildings.

    Should a flexible ductwork system ever be incorporated into these new technology systems the gains will be lost to ductwork component failure.

    We then have challenges to apply these new technologies to the outside of buildings, and suggesting, these could withstand even moderate outside environments, e.g. gusty winds, high temperatures generated from solar radiation effects or vandalism, I believe will be BIG challenges which is scary.

    Science is good in theory, it’s the application at times some ideas stumble