Novatropes are 3D printed kinetic sculptures that use rotational motion and strobe light to mimic a calming illusion of infinite movement. The design is derived and synthesized from mathematical concepts and mother nature, which gives a biophilic character to it. Since novatropes are a combination of illuminating surfaces and rotational motion, these structures are often referred to as ‘electrokinetic’ sculptures. 

Starting its life in 2017 as an enthusiasts project by Brandon Keeber and Alejandro Gomez Cardenas, this thought-provoking structure got refined and redefined in the coming years. And this led to a new thought, can new applications be discovered for novatropes as we go into the future?

Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet2
Novatropes_©novatropes.com
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet4
_Top view of Novatropes_©kickstarter.com

An Idea Re-imagined for the 21st Century

The creators of Novatropes took their first step from the concept of a ‘Zoetrope.’ It’s a pre-film animation device that displays a sequence of drawings or photographs and creates an illusion of motion via progressive rotational phases. The earlier versions of zoetrope consisted of a cylindrical vessel with vertical slits on its outer radii and sequential pictures on its inner radii. 

Upon circular motion, these pictures transform to a motion picture when viewed through the vertical slits. The faster the cylindrical drum is spun, the smoother the animation becomes. Taking a spin on this, Brandon and Alejandro created a 21st-century zoetrope that is much more compact, affordable, elegant, and futuristic than its predecessor. 

Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet3
A modern replica of a Victorian Zoetrope_©Solipsist
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet6
W.E. Lincoln’s U.S. Patent for Zoetrope_©W.E. Lincoln

The Principles Deployed for Novatropes

The postulates backing the sculptures are derived from the Fibonacci Series and Golden Spiral’s mathematical concepts. And they are modelled based on the phyllotactic spirals that naturally occur on flowers and other structures. These principles, along with other inputs, are plugged in as raw data into a specially designed software that creates renders of novatropes (a specially designed toolkit used as a plugin in Blender). 

Each of these structures is inspired by various headings ranging from nature to MC Escher’s impossible cube. Light plays a significant role in completing this illusion of motion and works on the fundamentals of strobe light. A high-frequency coloured strobe light is placed under the sculpture in a ring that provides illumination within the translucent plastic. A Novatrope comes to life when all these principles come to play.

Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet5
Fibonacci Series on flowers_©novatropes.com
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet8
Toolkit prepared for novatropes in Blender_©kickstarter.com
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet7
M.C. Esher Cube Wallpaper_©etoffe.com
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet10
Arrows indicating movement of rotation in novatrope_©novatropes.com

Dynamics of Novatropes

Once the designers make the final tweaks using the specialized software, the sculptures get 3D printed using translucent plastic. These are mounted on a wooden platform consisting of a high-speed motor, a ring-shaped strobe light, and an injection-moulded base. The power train gets equipped with a spring mechanism that helps in swapping out the novatropes. 

After it gets tuned to its required configuration, the strobe light illuminates the rotating structure at the right time to create a mesmerizing illusion similar to stop-motion animation. A rotary knob is attached to the wooden deck, which helps alter the strobe frequency and recalibrates the visual effect. The LED colour and brightness can be changed using this knob. 

At particular coherent frequencies, the sculpture appears to animate from down to the top and vice versa. This collective combination results in an interactive and beautiful tech-art piece of novatrope that invokes our thoughts and calms our minds.

Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet9
Complete set of novatrope_©kickstarter.com
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet13
Internal components of novatrope_©kickstarter.com

The World of Kinetic Facades

A building facade is one of the spaces that are well-thought-out as it can increase the internal comfort and at the same time decrease the energy consumption of the building it envelops. Since there are a few negative impacts on using expansive windows on buildings with respect to thermal efficiency, kinetic facade systems are more favourable. We can intelligently control the amount of natural sunlight and natural ventilation that is to be allowed inside the building. 

One of the primary examples of a kinetic system is a facade designed with adjustable or movable panels.

Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet11
Ameller and Dubois school building facade with adjustable panels_©frameawards.com
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet12
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology with movable panels on its facade_©commarch.com

As technology progressed, architects and designers used smart panels that used artificial intelligence to predict the weather forecast and automatically adjust the panels for a better environment inside the building. And with the introduction to hybrid systems, which also used smart materials and the before mentioned technology, rose the world of kinetic facades to a new level. Although the advantages to this system are plenty, it got weighed down by few factors due to which the system wasn’t applied to all buildings. 

Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet14
Futurium in Berlin with smart panels on its facade_©Dacian Groza
Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet15
Torre de Expecialidades in Mexico uses hybrid panels on its facade_©energydigital.com

Unexplored Route of Novatropes

A few of the primary issues with the modern-day kinetic facade system are its high construction cost, high maintenance, design complexity, and use of expensive material. It’s high time an innovation comes into this field to tackle these persistent issues, and deployment of novatropes can serve as a viable replacement for the current kinetic facade system. The area of 3D printing is ever-growing as we progress further into the future. With the introduction of wide varieties of material usage and cost reduction, as the number of 3D printers increases, the overall cost for developing kinetic facades will reduce drastically. 

Novatropes: Can it be the next innovation on building facades? - Sheet1
Novatrope in present generation_©kickstarter.com

The mechanisms implemented in novatropes could be reciprocated. They can be made according to the building envelope if more funding is put into research for developing novatropes on a widespread scale. Its flexibility and flawless motion could be programmed with inputs from weather forecasts so that the 3D structure can transform its shape to accommodate climate change and maintain the comfort level in the interiors of the building. 

Also, the sculptures can adjust their formation to incorporate natural lighting and natural ventilation, decreasing the running expenditure for a building. As the company (Novatrope) that develops these structures brings further refinements in its technology, we can surely wait forward, and see its applications being used in different industries in the future.

References 

Fakourian, F. and Asefi, M., 2019. [online] researchgate. Available at: <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330862377_Environmentally_responsive_kinetic_faCade_for_educational_buildings> [Accessed 19 August 2021]. 

Kickstarter. (2020). Novatropes: Electro-Kinetic Sculptures Inspired by Nature. [online] Available at: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/novatropes/novatropes-electro-kinetic-sculptures-inspired-by-nature [Accessed 22 Aug. 2021].

Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Zoetrope. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zoetrope.[Accessed 19 August 2021].

NovaTropes. (n.d.). How Does It Work. [online] Available at: https://www.novatropes.com/pages/how-does-it-work [Accessed 22 Aug. 2021].

Author

Milan Denny is an architecture student who has just begun to explore his way into architectural journalism. He is genuinely passionate about architecture and technology and constantly seeks new experiences to widen his knowledge to blend them. Tea is the shortcut key to his heaven.

Write A Comment