Arts & Entertainment

Product Used Switchable Privacy Glass
Location Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Melbourne VIC
Glass Manufacturer Switchable Privacy Glass
Installer RMIT University


The Penumbra Project explores the potential for the design and fabrication of active building skin systems.

Drawing on recent research into this, the Penumbra Project will develop designs and prototypes of lightweight, geometrically flexible components with novel technologies for responsive shading systems. The prototypes will be composed of a series of component cells, an integrated structural frame and an aperture which can switch between transparent and opaque. This aperture is programmable, containing microscopic matter which can be controlled by an electric charge. This tiny manipulation of matter enables major visual and environmental effects, allowing the skin to provide solar shading, and highly dynamic lighting conditions. This enables the building facade to simulate alternative experiences such as the dappled light of a forest and even operate as an abstracted pixelated screen.

The design concept was originally proposed by Richard Blythe, Paul Minifie and Jan van Schaik in their architectural competition entry for the ‘House of Fairy Tales’. Their honeycomb design arrangement of apertures operated as a highly articulated building skin, opening and closing to evoke a forest effect and to work as a pixilated luminous screen using the open/closed operation of each cell to create shadow images of figures from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales moving over the surface of the building. The concept anticipated a modular system that could be produced using advanced manufacturing processes to create intelligent and structurally self-supporting components.

Project Credits

  • Lead Designers: Richard Blythe, Paul Minifie
  • Prototyping and Detailed Design Lead: Nick Williams
  • Detailed Design Consultation: Jane Burry and Jan van Schaik
  • Electronic Design and Actuation Control: Scott Mitchell and Daniel Prohasky
  • Research Assistants: Amaury Thomas, Joshua Salisbury-Carter, Brendan Knife, Wenjin Lai, Todd Dawson, Guangshan Pan
  • Project Funding: The Design Research Institute at RMIT University
  • Material Sponsorship and Support: SwitchGlass

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