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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Soft Optics

Soft Optics

Exploring “material softness” through the interaction of light and infatable architecture and the “perceptual softness” of reactive and transformative spaces. “Soft Optics” looks at how certain stimuli shape a user’s state of consciousness encouraging deep immersion experiences. The result of the research is an interactive installation within a geodesic sphere supported by an inflatable skin. A cloud of sphere’s made of transparent, reactive and iridescent sheet materials inflate and deflate in response to inhabitants movement and tactile interaction with the space.

More detail

The aim of Soft Optics is creating a space where lights and physical form meet. The environment reflects the multi-sensory experience of visual perception, in which many parts work together to create a complex immersive space.

Changing of light and effects are incredible, but it doesn’t come from complex programming. Actually, it comes from complexity of materials. And our interest is very simple using material complexity to produce extraordinary light, and using material tactility and touch to create a much more multi-sensory experience. Therefore, we’re resisting complex software and hardware approaches, and approaching light through material experimentation.


Before we decide materials for our first prototype, we tested 5 different materials which are flexible, transparent and reflective for make different kinds of lights. we got really wonderful and unexpected effects from our light experiments. After the material tests, decided to ideal material for our work which users can touch and haptics and can feel. This is reason why inflatable thing was coming. We want to combine inflatable and interactive lighting to create new experience. Inflatable material with lights can offer totally different and unique atmosphere in same space according to scale of inflatable thing and it really depends on materials and users’ control. Because they make different reflection such as brightness of colours and lights. Also it could create users’ active body movement in terms of touching.



Inflatable layer

The structure of the inner layer is designed to hold the layer from falling down and also creating shadows. What’s more the structure then can become the medium of the touching interaction.  In order to make the structure fit the soft inflatable bag we used metal ring to join the structure together and used flexible plastic material to make the structure. For interactive part, we used the LED which is supported by the structure out of the inner layer. The outer layer is mainly designed for creating a repetition shadow of the mirror box.


Air pump system


diagram 1. Air Blastergate

air pump system

diagram 2- Air pump system


In order to control the deflate and inflate of the two layers we used servo controlled blaster gate to make sure the air come into the certain layer. And also, we compared the time of 4 different air pumps machines in inflating the inner layer.The  4 different machines is two 12V quick air pumps , fan and bouncy castle blower.  we prefer to use the 12V air pump machine, since this kind of machine can be controlled by Arduino easily. However after testing the time of inflating the installation. However the two 12V air pump machine takes 20min and 10mins respectively. For the fan, the air is too strong, and hard to control. In the end, we choose bouncy castle blower.




Clark, A and Chalmers, d.1998. “The Extended Mind,” Analysis 58

Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Selega, I., 1988. Optimal experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Michael, T., 1995. The Burning House, Thomas Metzinger (ed), Consciousness Experience, Imprint Academic & Paderborn, pp. 81-90.

Richard L. Gregory,1998, Eye and Brain: The psychology of seeing

Rudolf Arnheim. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA 94720, U.S.A., 1974. New version; expanded and revised edition of the 1954 original.

Project references

Julio Le Parc – Lumiere en movement

Leah Burrows – A 3-D material that Folds, Bend and Shrinks on its own

Loop.pH – OSMO

Mai Ikinana – Reflection in the sculpture

rAndom International Design – Swarm Light

Ronald van der Mejis – a time apsule of life

Tomas Saraceno – Poetic Cosmos of the Breath

Troika – Arcades