Chapel of mercy

The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. (Pope Francis)

During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the faithful are invited to make a pilgrimage to particular shrines around the world, many of them hosting a Holy Door.

In London, the Cardinal has designated a number of parishes where indulgence may be gained by passing through the Holy Door. My project intends to use this opportunity to create a pilgrim chapel which would travel throughout the year to highlight the London churches designated with a Holy Door.

London holy doors mapLondon churches with a Holy Door

Not only will this chapel be a place of prayer, it will also be a space for reconciliation. When the Missionaries of Mercy will be sent out during the season of Lent to the Diocese of Westminster, the chapel could be used for confession.

The chapel is meant to have a strong relationship with the door of the church by resembling the geometry of the rose windows usually found above the entrance to a sacred place. The configuration with eight petals was chosen for its pleasing symmetry, and because of the geometry it creates when tessellated: a Greek cross.

2.jpg‘Rose’ configurations

The canopy is formed by two layers of expandable geometries to give added rigidity and privacy. The two layers are spaced apart by metal rods fixed key nodes of the two layers.

The canopy is fixed to the rectangular base by metal bolts, at the four corners. Also attached to the base are the two confessionals, the kneeler and the cross, symbol of mercy and forgiveness.


The Pilgrim Chapel is intended to be a space of light, peace and reconciliation, where visitors of all faiths and none can experience tranquillity. Light plays an important role in the experience of the chapel as it creates intricate shadow patterns.

Chapel eye levelChapel interior

Here is a short video showing the design development process:

Da Vinci Codex

‘Da Vinci Codex’ is a latticed sculptural piece which creates unique poetics of morphology that merge structure and movement. It transgresses the artificial boundary between art, science and technology, casting seemingly established analogies in a new light while inviting visitors to rethink the relationship between form, geometry and construction. Linear and curved scissor elements form a series of recursive cubes which speak of infinity and the complexity of our world. It denotes a recognizable metaphor of ‘object-within-similar-object’ that appears in the design of many other natural and crafted objects. The precision of the cubic form reflects the organised chaos of our universe. Poignant patterns inspired by a study into the scissor movement of the cube elements are perforated into the triangulated parts of the Codex.

Da Vinci Codex 1

Da Vinci Codex 2

As they expand and collapse, the triangles form unique and intricate shadows which highlight the transitional quality of human life and emotions, changing from a state of happiness to sadness, from calm to anger, from life to death. The structure provides shelter from the heat of the sun while entertaining its guests with opportunities to engage with the structure. A deployment mechanism inspired by study into Leonardo da Vinci’s machinery sketches found in his Codex Atlanticus is actuated by a series of gears situated at the base of the structure, which are set into motion by a pedal system powered by visitors. As burners interact with the piece, they contemplate a fascinating and spectacular change of light and decor. ‘Da Vinci Codex’ stands as a piece of event architecture, a spatial construct where movement is a transformational creative force.

The visitors interact with the piece by powering one of the four pedal systems connected to the deploying mechanism. As they pedal, the burners witness a captivating movement: the synchronised expanding and collapsing of the three cubes which cast intricate shadows and stimulate a sense of play. The visitors can also step inside the cubes and experience a series of ‘in-between’ spaces before reaching the central volume and enjoying a level of protection from the wind and sun. The highly abstract aesthetic of the ‘da Vinci Codex’ is meant to affect the community with a spirit of experimentation and encourage each and every burner to question preconceived ideas, beliefs or desires.

Da Vinci Codex

Da Vinci Codex3Da Vinci Codex2

The size of each member has been carefully considered not only to allow structural integrity but also to respect the proportions of the human body. Each face of the cube moves in a synchronised manner. The relationship between the size of each face and proportions of the human body has been inspired by da Vinci’s Vitruvian man.

BM open cubeBM night render

Deployable structures

A deployable structure includes an enclosed mechanical linkage capable of transformation between expanded and collapsed configurations while maintaining its shape.

These types of structures have the advantage of creating versatile, modulated spaces, with easy and fast assembly which generate benefits such as adaptability, flexibility and space transformation.

Charles Hoberman pioneered a type of deployable structure based on curved scissor pairs as seen in his Hoberman sphere. The unfolding structure resembles an expanding geodesic sphere which can reach a size up to five times larger than the initial one. It consists of six loop assemblies (or great circles), each made of 60 elements which fold and unfold in a scissor-like motion. Portfolio 2.jpg

Hoberman Sphere by Charles Hoberman

A loop assembly is formed of at least three scissors-pairs, at least two of the pairs comprising two identical rigid angulated strut elements, each having a central and two terminal pivot points with centres which do not lie in a straight line, each strut being pivotally joined to the other of its pair by their central pivot points. The terminal pivot points of each of the scissors-pairs are pivotally joined to the terminal pivot points of the adjacent pair such that both scissors-pairs lie essentially in the same plane.Portfolio 22

Regular curved scissor-pairs in motion

When this loop is folded and unfolded certain critical angles are constant and unchanging. These unchanging angles allow for the overall geometry of structure to remain constant as it expands or collapses.Portfolio 23

Regular and irregular curved scissor-pairs in motion

The above diagrams show a closed loop-assembly of irregular scissors pairs where each scissors-pair is pivotally joined by its two pairs of terminal pivot points to the terminal pivot points of its two adjacent scissors-pairs. This loop-assembly is an approximation of a polygon in the sense that the distances between adjacent central pivot points are equal to the corresponding lengths of the sides of the polygon. Further, the angles between the lines joining adjacent central pivot points with other similarly formed lines in the assembly are equal to the corresponding angles in the polygon.

The beams forming scissor-pairs can be of almost any shape, providing that the three connection points form a triangle. The angle of the apex would dictate the number of scissor-pairs that can be linked together to form a closed loop.Portfolio 28.jpg

Scissor-pairs of varying morphologies

My physical experiments started with materials that would allow a degree of bending and torsion in order to test the limits of the system. Using polypropylene for the angular beams and metal screws for the joints, I created these playful models that bend as they expand and contract.Portfolio 214.jpg

Later I started using MDF for the beams as well as joints and noticed that a degree of bending was present in the expanded state of the larger circle.Portfolio 215.jpg

After using curved scissor pairs of the same angle to form closed linkages, I decided to combine two types of scissors and vary the proportion between the elements to achieve a loop which would offer the highest ratio between the expanded and contracted state.Portfolio 216.jpg

900 curved scissors loops

Portfolio 217.jpg

900 curved scissors with linear scissors loops

The above diagrams show a combination of 900 curved scissors with linear (1800) scissors to form rectangles that expand and contract. The length of the 900 beam was gradually increased  and by measuring the diagonals  of the most expanded and most contracted forms, I obtained the following ratios for the three rectangles:

R1 = 0.87

R2 = 0.67

R3 = 0.64

By keeping the curved scissor with the best ratio, I created three more rectangles, this time by varying the length of the linear beam. The following ratios were obtained:

R1 = 0.64

R2 = 0.59

R3 = 0.67Portfolio 218.jpg

900 curved scissors with linear scissors loops

I then took the linkage with the best ratio of 0.59 and rotated it 900 to form a cube which expands and contracts.Portfolio 219.jpgPortfolio 220.jpg

Combined linkage cubes

The change of state from open to closed is visually attractive and could have the potential of creating spaces that are transitional.Portfolio 223If more linear scissors are placed between the 900 scissors, a better contraction ratio is obtained.Portfolio 222

Combined linkage cubes with two linear scissors

Kinetic systems

“…the main task is to unfreeze architecture- to make it a fluid, vibrating, changeable backdrop for the varied and constantly changing modes of life…”

Reciprocal systems can be used to create a wide variety of movable structures based on pin-joint assemblies, especially in planar form.

One of the most widely known reciprocal kinetic structures is the iris diaphragm which uses four or more elements hinged at their ends with pin joints to generate a sliding motion for opening and closing. The elements join one another at different points along their spans and these intermediate points of connection can be used to determine new kinematic behaviour.

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Iris diaphragm with 6 and 8 elements

Jean Nouvel’s facade design for the Institut du Monde Arabe is based on the iris mechanism, with aluminium diaphragm panels employing squares, circles, stars and polygons to generate decorative patterns through rotation. This light-responsive south facing facade uses a photoelectric cell to adjust the admission of natural light by the opening and closing of the mobile diaphragm.


Institut du Monde Arabe by Jean Nouvel

Calatrava’s project for a restaurant in Zurich has some similarities with the principles of retractable reciprocal frames. The roof structure is composed of nine metal and glass tree-like elements 12m high. Each of the nine columns is mechanically operated and folds simultaneously with all the others to provide shelter for the restaurant underneath.



Model for a restaurant in Zurich by Santiago Calatrava

The idea of a retractable roof which operates similar to the iris of the camera lens was first patented in 1961 by Emilio Perez who proposed a dome built of 3D curved segments which retract. The segments twist simultaneously and create a circular opening at the top.

Patent of retractable dome

Patent for a retractable dome by Emilio Perez

However, issues such as cladding materials, the changing geometry due to the retraction, design details of the hinges, eliminating the danger of progressive collapse, drive mechanisms which will provide simultaneous reaction to the beams and the cladding as well as overall construction detailing have to be considered and developed.

Chuck Hoberman’s research in the field of mobile and folding structures can have a remarkable impact on the development of kinetic reciprocal structures. His unique approach in the field of transformable design has created created objects that simulate the behaviour of living organisms, fostering a dynamic relationship between structure and user.

The Iris Dome has a fixed perimeter with a centre retracting in a smooth radial motion. A lamella dome with a geometry of interlocking spirals, the structure is based on a Vierendeel grid which carries the load by bending action rather than by axial forces which makes it similar to a retractable reciprocal structure. The main difference however is that the segments which form the Iris Dome are an assembly of pairs of structural elements connected with hinges at their midpoints which move like scissors.

Scissor-like movement is the main generative force also for the Hoberman sphere. The unfolding structure resembles an expanding geodesic sphere which can reach a size up to five times larger than the initial one. It consists of six great circles, each made of 60 elements which fold and unfold in a scissor-like motion. There are also 60 nodes which give rigidity to the structure and prevent the circles from expanding further into elliptical shapes.

Hoberman’s piece emerged in part from working with NASA on their deployable structures programme: ‘rather than constructing a structure in space, you unfold a structure in space’.

Reciprocal Oservatory

Reciprocal Observatory is a dome‐like structure which is open to the elements, relying only on the density of the structural members to offer a gentle screening from the sun, casting playful, intricate shadows on the ground during the day and framing the starry sky at night.

Burning Man eye level 3

A reciprocal structure is formed by three or more beams supporting each other through forces of friction. Each beam plays a paramount role in the integrity of the whole structure: if one of them is removed, the entire edifice collapses.

Reciprocal Observatory has the form of a geodesic dome assembled with beams arranged in a reciprocal formation. Each hexagonal cell of the dome is clad with a smaller hexagonal structure which repeats itself four times while proportionately decreasing in size. As it moves away from the main frame, it forms a spiral which is intended to capture the attention of the burners and draw them inside, determining them to spend time and interact with the structure.

Reciprocal Systems Portfolio 3

  • Step 1: Rotate first beam on the z axis;
  • Step 2: Generate five other beams through rotation;
  • Step 3: Rotate the second beam on the z axis;
  • Step 4: Generate five other beams through rotation;
  • Step 5: Interlock the two sets of beams- elevation;
  • Step 6: Interlock the two sets of beams- perspective;
  • Step 7: The same process is repeated, with the centre of each unit coinciding.

Reciprocal Systems Portfolio 32Assembly is done by simply interlocking the members together, without the need of additional fastening systems. Anchoring to the ground will be made with a base ring which will be pinned to the playa with Hurricane ground anchors. Rebar stakes will be used to anchor the structure to the timber ring which will be covered with sand.

The construction is made out of timber breams the length and thickness of which decreases as the number of iterations increases. The main frame would be cut in shape through the process of milling while the cladding system can be achieved through laser cutting. The beams would be transported to site and assembled at the designated location on the playa.

Reciprocal Systems Portfolio 33

Reciprocal systems have been used by the Native Americans in the Great Plains to create tipis, their main form of dwelling. In this way Reciprocal Observatory becomes also a mirror to the past, filtered through the creative lens of self‐expression.

Thus, Reciprocal Observatory wants to be a place of reflection and meditation over an idealised model of our society as it develops in time and a space of exploration and discovery of the natural beauties that surround us.

To arrive inside the structure, visitors would have to find one of the five cells that is left unclad and crawl in. Once surrounded by the reciprocal dome, burners are encouraged to touch and explore the intricate formations cladding the sculptural structure.

Line drawingBy openly displaying its structure, Reciprocal Observatory intends to make burners reflect on the role each individual plays at the festival and in the wider context of our society. Moreover, the recursive geometry of the cladding system creates links with the outside world and the cosmos by projecting outwards and framing views of the sky while mirroring the universe as we know it.

Interior 3

Reciprocal Structures

A reciprocal frame is a self-supported three-dimensional structure made up of three or more sloping rods, which form a closed circuit. The inner end of each rod rests on and is supported by its adjacent rod, gaining stability as the last rod is placed over the first one in a mutually supporting manner.

These rods form self-similar and highly symmetric patterns, capable of creating a vast architectural space as a narrative and aesthetic expression of the frame. The appearance of the entire structure is determined by the geometric parameters of each individual unit and the connections between the units.


Precedent image

Reciprocal frame (RF) principles have been around for many centuries, proving themselves versatile, efficient and resistant. They were present in the neolithic pit dwelling, the Eskimo tent, Indian tepee and the Hogan dwellings where mutually supporting beams form a rigid skeleton. The Hogan dwellings consist of a larger number of single RFs being supported by a larger diameter RF structure. Later development of the structural form can be seen in the timber floor grillages of larger medieval buildings where they were used for spanning spaces wider than the length of available beams.


Eskimo tent

Leonardo da Vinci explored two forms of reciprocal structure: a bridge and a dome. His work was commissioned by the Borgia family, with the purpose of designing light and strong structures which could be built and taken down quickly. This was to aid them in their constant quest for dominance over the Medici family in Renaissance Italy. The bridge would have been used for crossing rivers, and the dome could have functioned as a military camp.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s sketchbook

Understanding the geometry of the reciprocal frame and the parameters that define it is essential in order to design and construct larger systems. The parameters that define RF units with regular polygonal and circular geometry are the following:

– n: number of beams;

– R: radius through the outer supports;

– r: radius through beam intersection points;

– H: vertical rise from the outer supports to the beam intersection points;

– h: vertical spacing of the centerlines of the beams at their intersection points;

– L: length of the beams on the slope;

– l: plan projection of the length of the beam.

16.10.14 Systems 6Manipulating the length (L), height (H) and radius of the circumscribed circle of the three intersection points (r), the geometry of the structure changes as follows:

-increasing the length of the beams reduces the height of the entire structure;

-increasing the height of the RF structures reduces the span of the overall structure;

-increasing the radius of the circumscribed circle reduces the span of the overall structure.

16.10.14 Systems

Each RF member is subject to forces of compression, bending moments and shear forces as well as axial forces. The members transmit the vertical forces of their own weight and any imposed loads through compression in each member. These forces must be resisted at the perimeter supports. In addition, the lower part of the beam, between the outer support and the point where the beam is supporting the adjacent one, is in compression whereas tension forces will occur in the upper part of the beam.


Rhino model

Having investigated various morphologies through digital and especially physical modelling, I have started creating a dome-like structure which, through an irregular reciprocal unit, folds into a super-dome. Repeating the process, I arrived at a spiralling domical structure which I have then panelled, using the same reciprocal morphology. This lends a recursive effect to the entire structure.

IMG_5964 IMG_5987 IMG_5996 20141110_091903 20141110_050054

Progression of the structure in physical form

Beginnings of SF

Surrounded nowadays by so much science fiction material in the form of print or movies, it is often hard to think of the beginnings of SF as a popular genre. And it’s even harder to believe that this popularity was mainly the result of only one man’s efforts, some 90 years ago.

Hugo Gernsback, a Luxembourgian entrepreneur and inventor, emigrated to the United States in 1904 to market his inventions on a land where everything seemed possible. Fascinated by technology and gadgetry, he gradually became more and more interested in the possibilities that the new inventions like radio and telephone could offer in the future. He started gathering material for something at that time was still unheard of, a publication for the so-called ‘scientification’.

In 1908 Gernsback started publishing “Modern Electrics”, a magazine that would inform the public on the latest innovations in technology and spark a wider interest into electronics. For the next five years Gernsback was opening his own pathway to SF. He felt this type of publication should contribute to the knowledge and understanding of science itself.


In 1913 he changed the name of his magazine to “Electrical Experimenter” and started including ‘scientific fiction’ alongside science articles, including his first SF novel, one which was to become a key work of reference for future SF writers: “Ralph 124C41+”, published as a book in 1925.


Often considered of low literary merit, the book is more of a systemised enumeration of future gadgetry than a story-teller: the eponymous protagonist saves the life of the heroine Alice by directing a flow of energy remotely at an approaching avalanche and then taking her into space on his own “space flyer”. This simple plot is used by the author to suggest a future that combines the entirely plausible and the bizarrely far-fetched. He predicts numerous later day inventions and innovations including: accelerated plant growing farms, elecromobyles, space-flyers, solar panels, the radar, television and channel surfing, the video phone, transcontinental air services and synthetic foods.

solar_farmHelio-dynamosphores: future solar panels

space_9Ralph entering a space capsule

There are also predictions not yet fulfilled: the hyperbyscope – a sleep learning device, the menograph – a device that can record a persons’ thoughts, the permagatol – a gas that preserves organic mater indefinitely, vacation city – a domed city suspended 20,000 feet in the air using a device that nullifies gravity.

Frank-R.-Paul-Ralph-124C41+-CityVacation city

The book did not receive the deserved level of attention at the time, but it was for Hugo Gernsback only a step towards accomplishing his long term plan. On April 1926 he published the first magazine devoted entirely to science fiction: “Amazing Stories”. It was an immediate success, its purpose being to stimulate minds into pursuing scientific enquiry.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 13.14.56  Starting off with reprints of renown stories by Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe, it quickly gathered a strong readership base and original stories were being commissioned. With eye-catching covers and illustration by the talented Frank R. Paul and printed on relatively inexpensive pulp, it became one of the most popular magazines of the 1920s. It was in one of its issues that Hugo (re)coined the term ‘science fiction’. The main fascination lied with technological advancements and space exploration, often sparked by the most recent scientific discoveries.

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 13.21.53Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 13.47.55

After 1929, the publication changed hands several times and as the diversity and complexity of the SF genre increased, the importance of this magazine fell proportionately. However Hugo Gernsback is still considered, along with John W. Campbell, one of the most influential SF editors in history, having shaped the way in which much of the genre would be understood in the 20th century. This is one of the reasons why the most prestigious awards in SF literature is still named in his honour.