This article will dive into the world of kinetic architecture, explaining what it is and what benefits it can bring, and exploring some notable projects in this emerging architectural space.
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What is Kinetic Architecture?
For centuries, one of the main concepts of architecture has been the idea of a static space, which, whilst it provides a functional and often aesthetic benefit for inhabitants, is largely unchanging.
But what if the idea of a space or structure could be one that incorporates movement and a dynamic approach? Certainly, the world around a structure is not static but rather infinitely dynamic: temperature, weather, time of day, and even the movement of populations is an ever-changing factor in the built environment.
This is the core concept of kinetic architecture: structures that change over time in tune with external stimuli, much like an organism does. Essentially, structures and spaces built with a kinetic design are complex systems that respond to various dynamic factors.
There are three main categories of kinetic architecture: Kinetic structure systems, kinetic interiors, and kinetic facades. Each type of kinetic system, if deployed properly, has the ability to turn a static space into a highly dynamic, responsive one.
A Brief History of Kinetic Architecture
The idea is certainly not new: the concept of a building that changes its structure in response to dynamic factors may sound like the stuff of architectural science fiction, but the concept has been around since the middle ages. An early example of kinetic architecture is the drawbridge, a fortress’s key responsive defensive element.
Kinetic architecture began to receive some serious attention from architects in the 1930s, with several academic papers and books published on the subject. However, whilst promising, most of the literature during the decade was purely theoretical.
One early example in the 20th century of kinetic architecture was the Villa Girasole. Built in 1935, it is a house that rotates during the day, following the sun’s movement to maximize heat and light within.
By the 1960s and 70s, interest in adaptive, intelligent, responsive, and kinetic building elements started to grow with the advent of computer science and new building technologies and practices. The era of kinetic architecture seemed to be around the corner.
The 1980s saw further inroads by the concept with the construction of Paris’s Institut du Monde Arabe. This building has a kinetic façade that can automatically open and close to control heat and light within the structure. Fast forward to today, and the concept is still an intriguing one for architects and building managers.
Types of Control System
In order to function properly, a kinetic structural element requires a control system. There are six main types of control system used in kinetic architecture.
The first is an internal control system. In this type of system, no direct control is used, and there are no mechanical elements. The second type is a direct control system, which is directly moved by external stimuli such as sunlight. Retractable shades are a type of direct control system.
Indirect control systems are facilitated by sensor feedback systems to provide movement. Responsive indirect control systems use multiple sensors. Ubiquitous responsive indirect controls use predictive algorithm-enabled sensor systems which can predict when kinetic elements need to be adjusted.
The final type of control system is a heuristic, responsive indirect system. Systems are mediated using algorithmic systems that have learning capabilities. An example of this, the most complex and advanced type of control system, is a moderated retractable skylight, with individual skylights working together.
What Benefits Can Kinetic Architecture Bring?
Kinetic buildings allow engineers and architects to develop realistic solutions for responding to dynamic human and environmental factors. They create optimal indoor climates, smart building envelopes, make static buildings organic, and reduce costs associated with energy consumption.
Some Notable Examples of Kinetic Architecture Around the World
There are a number of grand buildings around the world that employ kinetic elements in their design. These include:
Milwaukee Art Museum, USA
Designed by three architects, including world-renowned Santiago Calatrava, the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Quadracci Pavilion has a movable, 217-feet sun shield that folds and unfolds depending on the time of day. Sensors that measure wind speed and direction aid the kinetic mechanism.
Time Lapse: Milwaukee Art Museum - Calatrava - Burke Brise Soleil - HD
Image Credit: nate53202/Youtube.com
Al Bahr Towers, Abu Dhabi
These two twenty-five-floor office towers in Abu Dhabi use an active kinetic façade to provide appropriate shading by responding to the sun’s trajectory. The buildings’ management systems control 100 individual solar projectors.
Kinetic Architecture - Al Bahar Towers
Image Credit: Rhino Grasshopper/Shutterstock.com
Bund Finance Center, Shanghai, China
The kinetic façade of the Bund Finance Center incorporates hundreds of vertical bronze-colored stainless steel pipes that move around the building, creating music. The entire structure is inspired by traditional Chinese theater curtains.
Bund Finance Center by Foster + Partners
Image Credit: Foster and Partners/Shutterstock.com
One Ocean Pavilion, EXPO 2012, Seoul
This innovative kinetic pavilion was installed at EXPO 2012. Glass fiber-reinforced polymer was used to create a moving fin-like façade that mimics the movement of biological organisms.
Thematic Pavilion, Expo 2012, South Korea - Kristina Schinegger, soma architecture
Image Credit: Building Centre/Youtube.com
Sharifi-Ha House, Tehran
This innovative kinetic apartment building in Iran’s capital city uses moveable rooms which open up to offer ventilation and light in the summer months, revealing large terraces. In the colder, harsh winter months, the house closes to retain heat by presenting minimal openings.
Amazing House In Tehran Whose Rooms Rotate 90°
Image Credit: Homedit ®/Youtube.com
Kinetic architecture is an emerging discipline that has roots in the medieval era’s drawbridges. This highly exciting area of architecture promises to provide urban and rural populations with structures that go beyond mere functionality, imbuing them with dynamic responsiveness to environmental, functional, and aesthetic needs.
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References and Further Reading
Verma, S (2023) Everything You Need to Know About Kinetic Architecture (2023) [online] novatr.com. Available at:
Patil, M (2022) 10 examples of Kinetic architecture around the world [online] Rethinking The Future. Available at:
Parker, J (2023) What is Kinetic Architecture? [online] architecturemaker.com. Available at: