Re-Flex by RTKL Associates

Re-Flex uses parametric design and digital fabrication to create a responsive modular system focused on filtering light. Designed by a team of designers at RTKL Associates, the concept is inspired by the human eye and the way the pupil responds to light. Each module is composed of four identical flat-cut pieces, which are folded and connected at the corners to form a square. As pressure is applied to the corners, the aperture at the center expands or contracts. The surface deformation not only controls the amount of light that is diffused by the system but also determines the ultimate volume of the installation. The modules are assembled in a pinwheel configuration, creating a grid that is infinitely expandable for potential applications including partitions, screens, canopies — even facades. 

Using the graphical algorithm editor Grasshopper and Rhino (the Rhinoceros 3D AutoCAD software), a script was developed to relate four control points for each side of a central attractor point. The attractor points are mapped onto a grid that can be applied to a variety of surfaces. Values assigned to the attractor points cause the control points of each module to move closer or farther away from the attractor, opening or closing the aperture. The control points also react to adjacent modules, causing the overall form to bend and twist.

The ten-member design team included: Michael Cagle, Assoc. AIA; Rickey Crum; Jordan Kepsel; Sang Yoon Kim; Jonathan LeMaster, Assoc. AIA; Hon Yan Mok, Hernan Molina, AIA; Brendan O'Grady, AIA; Aaron Shenefelt, Assoc. AIA; and Dustin Wekesser, Assoc. AIA. 

“As a group we were all really interested in exploring performance-driven parametric design,” noted Brendan O'Grady, AIA. “We also wanted to inspire others in the office to think more conceptually.” With projects all over the world, and many of them in sunny places, looking at a response to natural light seemed like a good fit. “The design is a modular system, and the size of the module can change,” said O’Grady. “It is economical as it is a single element that is repeated over and over.” The low-cost solution is attracting clients’ interests.

The Dallas-based office is working with developers in the Middle East and Orlando to create actual applications for Re-Flex. The Florida client in particular is looking for a series of canopies that could brand the building or create an outdoor identity — Re-Flex is an optimal solution for a unique, place-defining shade structure. 

This article is expanded content for Texas Architect March/April 2014.