Sabin’s work draws from fields like biology, materials science, and mechanical engineering.
ColorFolds responds to its environment, folding and unfolding when sensors detect changes to its own structure or people walking below.
The installation’s color shifts thanks to layered polyester film. Nickel-titanium wires contract like muscle fibers in response to heat or electricity.
Team members (clockwise from left include Martin Miller, Nick Cassab, Giffen Ott (on ladder), Andrew Moorman, Jenny E. Sabin, Andrew Lucia, David Rosenwasser, Jessica Jiang. Not shown: Max Vanatta
Architects like to poach design elements from the life sciences—a DNA helix here, a spherical nucleus there. But Cornell architecture professor Jenny Sabin goes even more interdisciplinary. “I'm not interested in just making buildings from beautiful forms in biology,” she says. Her experimental installations draw from just about every department on campus.
One of Sabin's latest projects is a set of hanging panels called ColorFolds that echoes the extracellular matrix, the zone between cells filled with proteins and other molecules critical to cell function. The structure responds to its environment like cells do, folding and unfolding when sensors detect people walking below. As it moves, the colors change, thanks to a polyester film Sabin tracked down after talks with a materials scientist. And for the movement, two mechanical engineers made springs from nickel-titanium wires that shorten in response to heat and electricity, contracting like muscle fibers. Looks like the engineers are borrowing from biology too.