Investigating the Performance of a Curved Profile

The Cycas Thouarsii (Madagascar Sago) is a subtropical plant from the Genus: Cycas. Their resistance to hurricanes, wildfires and droughts is part of the reason for their continued survival to the present day. Understanding the structural composition of the plants will help establish what naturally occurring systems allow to the plant to be so durable.

The stems of the plant show utilise a V/U shaped structure which improves stability.

Testing variations of the ‘V’ shaped base inspired by the Cycad will help understand the relationship between a curved profile and strength/durability.

This Investigation shows how different curves perform under gravitational load.

Curve Test: Paper Cantilever I

The experiment began with pieces of paper cut at the same length. Then they were cut in length until the piece of paper stayed upright under its own weight.

Curve Test: Paper Cantilever II

The geometries were produced in Grasshopper, utilising the graph mapper for mathematical curves. Since the Cycad plant has a stem in the shape of a Parabola / V, I began by testing how increasing the depth of a parabola curve can increase the performance of the paper cut out.

Following the initial experiment, the other pieces of paper that failed were trimmed until they stood upright against gravity.
The Length of each extrusion was measured, which again found that the ‘Circle, Ellipse, and Sinc’ Curves were the most structurally sound. The parabola curve also performed greater than expected, with a similar extrusion length to the Sinc Curve.

Curve Test: Plywood Cantilever

The purpose of the experiment was to see if Plywood performs in a similar way to paper when conducting the same tests.

In order to get the plywood to bend into the desired forms, the plywood was initially scored by the laser cutter on one side of the sheet. These scores allowed gaps to be produced between the sheets of the plywood when bending.

Plywood Array :

The purpose of this experiment is to understand how the curved plywood experiment performs under various arrangements. The base model features arrays with varying angles, and distances apart in order to better understand how the curves can look and connect together.

The second part of this investigation set out to understand how the plywood reacts to varying degrees of tension. String tension members were connected to the cylindrical array in a similar manor to the arrangement found in pine cones.

Plywood : 180 x 360

Utilising the curve of the plywood, investigation was conducted into the various degrees in which the wood can bend.

The Palm Arms


Palm trees are angiosperms, which means flowering plants. They are monocots which means their seeds produce a single, leaf-like cotyledon when they sprout. This makes palms closely related to grasses and bamboo.

Palm Tree
Components of Palm Trees

Growth and Decay
Palm Growth and Decay Process

Palm Tree Information
Palm Tree Information

Mimicking the Geometry

This mature palm shows how the pattern originally seen in the young plant, forms a distinct mathematic pattern known as ‘Phyllotaxis’. This is a pattern with reoccurs throughout nature and is based on the Fibonacci sequence. In order to try to understand the use and formation of the palm fibre, the overall formation of the palm stem needed to be mathematically explored.

However, redrawing the cross-section of the base of the palm plants allows a better understanding of the arrangement of the palm plant.

Frond Arrangement
Palm Frond Arrangement

This exercise allows models to be made to recreate the patterns found in palm plants. By engineering plywood components, the basic shape of the palm geometry can be made into a physical model.

Palm Base Model
Re-creating Palm Base

This was pushed further by curving the plywood components to make extruded palm structure models

Palm Structure Model
Extended Palm Structure Model

Palm Structure Model
Three-Dimensional Palm Model

The arrayed components can then be altered so that the base of the models form regular polygon shapes. Doing this allows the potential for the structures to be tesselated. Using different numbers of components mean the structure can then be tested for strength.

Tessellation Models
Tessellation Models

Palm Wine

There are hundreds of used for palm fruits, this the plant producing materials which range from durable, to flexible to edible. One of the more interesting ones if the production of palm wine using the sap from the tree. Within 2 hours of the wine tapping process, the wine may reach up to 4%, by the following day the palm wine will become over fermented. Some prefer to drink the beverage at this point due to the higher alcohol content. The wine immediately begins fermenting, both from natural yeast in the air and from the remnants of wine left in the containers to add flavour. Ogogoro described a ‘local gin’, is a much stronger spirit made from Raffia palm tree sap. After extraction, the sap is boiled to form steam, which is then condensed and collected for consumption. Ogogoro is not synthetic ethanol but it is tapped from a natural source and then distilled.

To understand the fermentation process more clear, the process of fermenting sugar to make wine has been undertaken.

Palm wine tasting
Testing Palm Wine

Alternative Fuel

The distillation of the wine can be used to make bio-ethanol. This production of this fuel can act as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel energy, which is overused and damaging to our environment.

How Much Energy?

Future Proposal

The developed structure, as well as the production of palm wine and bio-ethanol, can be collaborated to develop a programme, which provides sustainable energy, within a space that is inviting and exciting.

The production of bio-fuel releases a lot of carbon dioxide. In order to ensure the process does not impact the environment, this needs to occur inside a closed system, so the CO2 does not enter the atmosphere. This can be done by using the properties of a Solar Updraft Tower. Carbon dioxide released from the fermentation and distillation processes can be received by palm trees for increased photosynthesis, while the excess oxygen from the trees provides fresh air for visitors.


Solar Updraft Tower Implementation
Form 01 – Solar Updraft Tower Implementation


The fermentation process can be controlled within an isolated area of the model.

Fermentation Implementation
Form 02 – Fermentation Implementation


The Distillation process, which requires a store of water for cooling, can also be conducted in an isolated area of the model, with apparatus incorporated into the structure.

Distillation Implementation
Form 03 – Distillation Implementation


The final proposal will be a combination of all three forms



Inflatable origami inspired by Mimosa Pudica, the 'folding plant'

The study of inflatable origami derived from the investigation of the Mimosa Pudica plant, which closes its leaflets when disturbed. The leaves fold inward and droop when touched or shaken, defending themselves from harm, and re-open a few minutes later. When the leaves are folded it makes the plant appear smaller, whilst simultaneously exposing sharp spikes on its stem.

Mimosa Pudica structure
Stimuli which causes Mimosa Pudica leaflets to fold
Change of turgor pressure within cells to cause leaflets to close

The plant folds its leaves as a result of a small change of turgor pressure in the plant cells which regulates the significant movement of the leaflets. In order to investigate this pressure change through modelling, two balloons are used and positioned at the base of the fins, mimicking the pressure change of the Mimosa Pudica. The model displays how a small increase of pressure, in this instance air, can create a more significant movement, acting as a hinge.

To control the angles of the tilt, a balloon has been made from paper using a tailored origami template which tilt the fins forward and inwards, replicating that of the Mimosa Pudica leaf movement. The origami balloon is comprised of two hinges, each one tilting in a different direction. When inflated, the first hinge expands, tilting the connecting fin forwards. When more air is blown into the balloon, the second hinge is inflated, tilting the fin inwards.

Origami balloon inflation sequence

As shown above, the origami balloons can control the desired angles of the tilts. When more air is blown into the balloons, it expands and the origami unfolds to reveal another lock position.

Following from the previous study, a series of balloons are created which combine the hinge movement with a rotational movement; the rotation origami balloon twists when inflated. To investigate the potential lock motions of each variant, the hinge and rotation balloons are combined in angles and stacks to provide alternative movement sequences. Below displays a matrix table, showing the hinge:rotation variables and their outputs.

Origami balloon matrix

Each origami balloon type provides an alternative folding sequence with either 1, 2 or 3 locking positions. These can then be manipulated as required, combining multiple balloons or re-dimensioning to suit their design intent.

One of the two principle origami balloon types is the hinge. When inflated, the balloon has the ability to tilt associated planes, creating a significant movement from a small inflation. The diagrams below show the digital simulation of the
movement, created in Grasshopper. Hinges can be combined with rotation origami balloons and other hinge balloons to create a sequence of tilting, rotational movements.

The second principle origami balloon types is the rotation. When inflated, the balloon has the ability to rotate, which can subsequently rotate any associated planes.

Rotation origami balloon

In order to create the grasshopper simulation, each origami balloon must be evaluated to extract each point of the shape. Once the points have been determined, they are allocated a series of values which determine the folding motion of the origami. The script must be programmed to prompt specific points to fold into one another.

Grasshopper hingepoints

Each origami model has a unique template which determines the angles of rotation and tilt. The templates are a combination of mountain and valley folds, each one carefully designed to ensure that when inflated, the balloon expands in the desired motion.

Origami templates

The origami system is then translated into a field array to study how the balloons can operate simultaneously.


To create the array below, a sequence of fins have been assigned to each balloon in over-lapping arrangement which can be used to parametrically open and close the panelised surface.

The next array acts similarly to a shutter system, displaying how a series of fins can be associated to one another to create a sequence of movements. The more inflated the balloon, the more vertically the associated fin will be, pulling each connecting fin towards it and thus retracting the series of panels.

Following from this, examples of the origami balloon field array mapped to a shape are studied, providing an insight as to how the array could be applied to an object. In the field map below, the panels are more open towards the top of the shape and are closed at the sides. In practice, this could be a result of the balloons inflating to further locking positions towards the top of the structure as a result of more exposure to sunlight /air flow which could increase the expansion of the origami balloon.

Origami balloon field mapped to shape

The below panelised field map displays the sequence of an interlocking array. The surface is more closed where the uninflated origami balloons are located. The interlocking sequence becomes more open once the origami balloons have inflated further, showing how the balloons can be manipulated to determine the transparency of a plane.

Origami balloon field mapped to surface

The origami balloon studies thus far have focused on individual balloons with separate associated end-effectors. To develop the scope of the origami balloons, a series of balloons connected by tubes has been constructed. Each origami balloon in the sequence shares the same air input system, and as a result develops a sequence of movements.

Physical origami balloon linkage model
Digital origami balloon linkage model

The creation of origami models lead to the study of paper as a material, and its position within the environment. Research into the paper manufacturing industry uncovered how masses of water and deforestation takes place as a result of paper manufacturing, with 14% of global deforestation solely for paper production. This prompted the investigation of recycled paper.

Paper industry statistics

The process I undertook to make the recycled paper required shredding old, disused paper found around the studio and recycling bins. The shredded paper is then mixed with water and blended to break down the fibers, converting the material into a pulp. The pulp is then laid onto a frame, the dimensions of which determine the sheet size. The pulp is removed from the frame, sponged and dried to create a new usable paper sheet.

Recycled paper making process
Paper is coated with wax to seal
Matrix of paper sheets, with varied recycled paper compositions and weights

Oil can be used to coat the sheet which increases the transparency of the paper. Once the oil is completely dried, the paper remains transparent. Image above shows the same two sheets of hand-made recycled paper, with the one on the right coated in oil.

Truss Forming In Heliconias

Heliconia Bihai Study

Heliconias are found throughout the Neotropics and are actually quite common in the rainforest. This plant is often acquired in order to provide temporary protection to young cacao plants. Meanwhile in certain areas, the leaves are used in housing to create roofing, with the plant fibre being used to make paper.

Water collects in the bracts of the straight stems, which provides a habitat for many species of tiny aquatic organisms.

Truss Matrix

Having looked briefly at the plant and seen what geometry it takes especially on plan a technique was derived from the form ‘Michell Truss’ to critically compare different experiments. Options 01 and 02 gave a better result of the geometry as the space internally was reduced to a minimum.

Truss Formation – Iteration 1

Having explored the geometry of the plant, physical experiments were carried out to explore the potential for a truss forming. This particular iteration gave no depth to the curve forming as all the ply strips were cut out at the same length.

Analysis Of Depth – Iteration 2

In order to give depth to the geometry and to make it three dimensional experimenting with ply was key three different lengths of ply strips were cut out to give a varied result. Option 03 gave a better result as the larger depth caused from the strips allowed for a smaller surface area at the top with minimal space impact.

Truss Formation – Iteration 3
Experiments With Ply – Iteration 3

Having explored the geometry at small scale it was necessary to test it at a larger scale with ply as a main material. A 1000mm by 600mm ply sheet was used to form the truss geometry at a larger scale. Through the method of soaking the strips of ply in hot water I was able to get a better curve result allowing for more flexibility of the form.

Truss Formation – Iteration 4

After a series of single small and large scale truss forms, stitching the geometry gave a interesting result to the perspective of the truss allowing for a matrix to unfold.

Experiments With Ply – Iteration 4

Two leaf trusses were joined together at a 45 degree angle then joined with another set through the strips of ply in allowing for a flow of form. Through this method a stacking effect was to be achieved, reflecting upon the original geometry of the plant Heliconia.

Digital Experiments – Arraying form

The following arrangements show the bunching of the geometry resulting to form a circular tower as a potential proposal for design.

Digital Experiments – Sequencing

A set of sequences were explored in order to evaluate which pattern simulation would result in the least amount of internal space between the connecting truss forms.

Digital Experiments – Surface Tessellation

The command ‘Loft Curve’ was used to tessellate a single truss form in Grasshopper. The tool Brep shape was then added to give depth to the curve lines used to form the surface.