Building Barbapapa

Spring 2012/2013 @ TU Delft
01 May 2013 / 06 May 2013

This workshop is part of the Transformer project and was done in collaboration with Marcel Bilow/Buckylab and Ulrich Knaack/Facade Research Group.

The previous studio on the Transformer (The Transformer @ ETH) was purely virtual, although it included some real-time interaction with the user. This workshop adds a physical element to the project. An animation is made using only real materials. Computers are only used for editing. The aim is twofold: to evaluate, which possible future materials for making the Transformer real. And to give an experience of the ‘look-and-feel’ of living in a fully transformable environment.

Utopian yet practical

The Transformer project is one of the most utopian and at the same time one of the most practical projects of the Why Factory. It is based on a hypothetical material. Various research institutions are busy with the idea of programmable matter. But it is unlikely that such a material will be available for large-scale usage within the coming ten or twenty years. At the same time, the Transformer includes very practical, scientific strategies in the field of ergonomics, interactive design and negotiation which are related to furniture, building and urban design.

Evaluate and experience

In this workshop, we made the Transformer (or ‘Barbapappa’, which is the internal nick name of the project) more tangible, touchable. To bridge the utopian part with the practical, we provide a real spatial experience and test real materials. So far the imagined, hypothetical transformable material does not exist yet. In this workshop, we use different materials to simulate the Transformable environment. Instead of going into nanotechnology and biochemical science, we use what our kitchen, supermarkets and DIY shops can offer us to experiment with elastic, flexible, stretchable, moldable materials. We aim for the ‘look and feel’ of the Transformer space. And, while we play with it, we discover many details, which were naturally left out in the previous studios.

The workshop

The workshop had a clear and simple frame: We use the Transformer movie from the previous studio. This movie shows, what life could be like in a transformable room. We re-made the movie, this time, without rendering and 3D models, but with real materials. The materials are of course not programmable. We will did not use motors, actuators or programmable material, but strings, sticks, our hands and simple stop-motion technologies. Not Avatar, but Thunderbirds Not Cinema 4D, but Lego animation Not Imax, but Southpark Not holograms, but clay and jelly The new Transformer movie is be a low-budget production. It is filmed with small cameras and smart phones. The materials come from the local supermarket, the ‘bouwmarkt’ or were simply found at home.

Material strategies

The experiments led to a series of material strategies, such as inflatable structures and walls, skins and pistons, the combination of Styrofoam and soap, electrostatic movement and skins with pistons. Next to the movie, the students speculated how these materials could be used on a larger scale. Either in an installation or as real building materials.


Ulf Hackauf, Adrien Ravon, Marcel Bilow (Buckylab) with Winy Maas and Ulrich Knaack (Facade Research Group)


Aleksander Jensen, Ansis Sinke, Callum Andrews, Chen Li, Ching He, Fei Wu, Gloria Chen, Guendalina Rocchi, Laura Ospina Botero, Maosen Geng, Marie d'Oncieu de la Bâtie, Mark de Klijn, Niek van Laere, Ugur Sütcü