Cells are the basic elements of all systems in living nature. The process of cellular differentiation underlies most natural systems’ capacity for functional integration and adaptation. In the Emergent Technologies and Design programme multifaceted cell research has been conducted over a number of years, ranging from in-depth investigations in the field of cellular solids to the development of cell-based pneumatic structures. In the following paragraphs two exemplary research projects will be explained. The field of cellular solids is remarkable as it is emblematic for a paradigm shift in material science. Until recently material research was conducted in a material-specific manner. For example, metallurgists studied metals and polymer scientists studied plastics. By nature, this material-specific approach did not investigate more general properties that traverse a particular material category and are shared by a wide range of different materials. However, over the last few decades an increasing number of trans-material researches have been conducted focusing on certain characteristics that are common to a wide variety of materials,
regardless of whether they are natural or manmade. One particularly interesting trans-material area of investigation and experimentation is cellular solids. In their seminal book Cellular Solids: Structure and Properties, L. J. Gibson and M. F. Ashby state that the fascination with cells has, of course, a long history in science, yet the rigorous investigation and classification of cell characteristics across different materials is a relatively recent phenomenon:
The structure of cells has fascinated natural philosophers for at least 300 years. Hooke examined their shape, Kelvin analyzed their packing, and Darwin speculated on their origin and function. The subject is important to us because the properties of cellular solids depend directly on the shape and structure of the cells. Our aim is to characterize their size, shape and topology: that is the connectivity of the cell walls and of the pore space, and the geometric classes into which they fall. (Gibson and Ashby 1999: 15)
In the most basic definition cellular solids can be described as assemblies of cells. Gibson and Ashby describe cellular solids as being made up of an interconnected network of solid struts or faces. These struts or faces are understood as the edges and faces of cells. A simple cellular solid is a two-dimensional array of packed polygons filling a plane. These cell assemblies very much resemble the hexagonal cell patterns produced by bees. Thus Gibson and Ashby call such two dimensional cellular solids honeycombs, whereas they refer to the more common, three dimensional packing of polyhedral cells as foams. The MA dissertation of Andrew Kudless focused on the development of cellular solids systems. The research aimed at providing an architecture-specific background to the geometric, mechanical, and morphological properties and processes of honeycomb cellular solids with the ambition of developing a novel honeycomb structure made from readily available stock material, in which each cell can be different in size, shape and orientation. Owing to manufacturing constraints, up to now any industrial application of honeycomb systems required a regular cell pattern. The ability to differentiate the honeycomb morphology brings it much closer to the remarkable versatility found in natural systems, in which irregularity is the key to functional integration and adaptation while regularity is just a highly unlikely anomaly.