Kinetic Structures
Kinetically Speaking: Applications Becoming More Universal
Mark Waggoner

“Kinetic features can be readily incorporated into almost any structure to address the goals of high-performing buildings or expand the program capabilities of a venue.”

Kinetic, or movable, architecture is the design of buildings in which transformative, mechanized structures change with climate, need, or purpose. Kinetic elements are often regarded as “bonus” features reserved for large, expensive structures such as sports stadia (retractable roofs or athletic fields), drawbridges, or intricate solar or shading systems. Yet as engineers specializing in these types of complex structures, we have found that kinetic features need not be overly complicated or costly to achieve desired functional needs or meet revenue or sustainability goals for what might be considered smaller, “routine” buildings.

These specialized structures call for a careful blending of sophisticated engineering techniques, mechanization systems, and practical construction know-how to successfully integrate kinetic components, whether on a new building or within an existing structure. The primary reasons for kinetic elements are to match the needs of people on the inside and to adapt to the elements on the outside. These kinetic elements can be roofs, building envelopes (façades), shading devices, bridges, or even decorative art installations that adjust according to changes in sun angle and/or temperature (visible light and heat), or prevailing wind speed and direction.

Kinetic features can be readily incorporated into almost any structure to address the goals of high-performing buildings or expand the program capabilities of a venue. For example, a simple 30’ x 40’ operable courtyard roof at a science museum enables patron comfort and sustainability goals by bringing the outdoors in when the weather is nice and keeping the rain away when it’s not, all controlled with the touch of a button from an iPad or similar device.

Kinetic structures can extend the revenue possibilities for smaller public venues as well as large stadiums; it all comes down to improving the experience of the fan, the patron, the staff, or the building’s inhabitants in general. Even smaller sports venues, such as a 7,500-seat arena in Melbourne, Australia, are employing operable roofs. For much of the year, this venue functions as a conventional indoor arena hosting various local sporting events and concerts, but during its signature Australian Open, the operable roof transforms the venue into a world-class outdoor tennis stadium while guarding against the possibility of a rain-out (which could potentially cause a loss in revenue).

As the technology for constructing and mechanizing kinetic structures becomes more widespread, we will continue to see increasing numbers of “unconventional” applications of kinetic features that respond to the programmatic needs of a wide range of clients and audiences, concerned in varying degrees with tempering the interior environment through innovative, alternately passive and active, design strategies.

Mark Waggoner / P.E.
Mark is a Principal and Project Manager with Walter P Moore’s Research and Development team, part of the Structures group in Austin, Texas.