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Embracing the Elements: Weather-Sensitive Architecture

Buildings typically provide shelter from the elements, but one Ryerson University researcher thinks structures ought to relate more to the environment instead. To this end she has created architectural “skins,” which interact with the weather to ultimately create environmental structures that integrate form with function.

An Associate Professor in Ryerson’s School of Interior Design, Filiz Klassen’s material innovations research in architecture has produced a series of building skins to create responsive structures which can be described as hot, cold, wet or dry. Examples include walls that reveal etched poems, create flashes of light, or that pulse with the pressure of wind, differences in temperature and lighting conditions or when subjected to rain.

By integrating weather elements into her innovative designs, Prof. Klassen is adding an entirely new dimension to architecture. It’s not just about aesthetics, but a building’s dynamic response to the elements. Integrating innovative textiles and building materials will also change a building’s environmental footprint by changing our attitudes and energy consumption. “Scientific research has produced materials that adjust to environmental conditions in different contexts,” explained Klassen.

In the future Prof. Klassen’s conceptual designs could help catapult Canada ahead in the field of sustainable, energy-conscious building design, helping architects visualize building skins that harness, transfer and release nature’s energy for better performance rather than solely relying on mechanical heating, cooling and artificial lighting.

Professor Klassen’s first set of conceptual prototypes and a feature film documenting the process will be exhibited at Design at Riverside, Cambridge Galleries, Cambridge, Ont from November 17 to January 3. Highlighting the connection between architecture and the physical environment, the show, Snow, Rain, Light, Wind: Weathering Architecture will feature a number of interactive textile installations including engravings that shimmer with accidental and ambient lighting; walls that change colour with the temperature; and fabrics that channel daylighting. The exhibition also incorporates lenticular photographs, and the showstopper, an exterior installation that covers part of the building façade across from the gallery.

“We spend so much time and energy warding off or protecting buildings against the elements that it takes an adjustment to embrace their full potential,” said Klassen. “I hope that my research can act as a catalyst to extend a language that is responsive to the climate in the architectural community in Toronto.”

Funding for Snow, Rain, Light, Wind: Weathering Architecture – and the four-year larger body of work, Malleable Matter – was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. To see further examples of Malleable Matter, visit For more information on the Snow, Rain, Light, Wind exhibition, visit

Ryerson University is Canada's leader in innovative career-focused education, offering close to 100 PhD, master's, and undergraduate programs in the Faculty of Arts; the Faculty of Communication & Design; the Faculty of Community Services; the Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Science; and the Ted Rogers School of Management. Ryerson University has graduate and undergraduate enrolment of 25,000 students. With more than 68,000 registrations annually, The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is Canada's leading provider of university-based adult education.

Heather Kearney | Newswise Science News
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