Come to think of it - Morphing a room into tables and chairs

Delta and Delft Integraal often write about innovative ideas that offer big promises for the future. But what has happened to such ideas a couple years on? What for instance has happened to furniture that reshapes?

(Photo: Hans Stakelbeek/FMAX)
(Photo: Hans Stakelbeek/FMAX)

Delta 27-04-2006
“For her Master’s thesis, architect Charlotte Lelieveld designed a room with a floor and walls that could morph into tables and chairs.” 

With a couple of clicks of a mouse, two tables, eight chairs and a big couch are created before your very eyes. The room is designed exactly the way you want it, and way you want it. If you have a dinner party, for instance, the walls and floor reshape into a table with many chairs. Afterwards, the party continues and your guests can lounge on couches.

That was the vision architect Charlotte Lelieveld had four years ago, which led to her winning a Delft Centre of Materials’ Young Wild Ideas Award. “I thought I’d be able to build the chair on a small scale in a year, but it proved to be a lot tougher. Because I’m an architect, I didn’t have experience working with materials like polymer. It took a long time to understand how the material behaves exactly.”

In fact, Lelieveld is still researching the material. She has since transformed her ‘wild idea’ into a PhD research project. “I’m the first one that’s doing this kind of research at the faculty of Architecture,” she says, “which makes it exiting but also demanding, because not a lot is known.”

Lelieveld is using Shape Memory Polymer, which can be morphed if it is heated up. When it cools down again, the polymer becomes hard and can be used as furniture. “I combine the polymer with Shape Memory Alloy,” she explains. “I use the alloy as actuator to set the polymer in motion, but I must know exactly how much force the alloys deliver. I’m also working on an integrated heating system inside the material. Ultimately, a computer, on which one could design, should be attached to the furniture, but I’m not yet working on that. The material itself is complicated enough. I’m currently working on a piece that’s 100 x 30 millimetres.”

For her research, Lelieveld is working together with Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Science and Engineering. “I think a lot about how to use the material; they think primarily about how the material works. That’s why the people at Mechanical Engineering have taught me so much. It’s fascinating to work together with researchers in different fields. Hopefully my research will lead to that room with morphing furniture. I’m also working on a project to use the material to ventilate buildings or to block the sun, but it will probably take a while before we get there. A lot more research on this new material and its use must be done.”