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‘Hydra’ Installation by SHIFTboston at Boston’s Landmark Center

SHIFTboston has recently been commissioned to build an installation in the tower of Fenway’s Landmark Center. Hydra – an installation that experiments with soft architecture – is a dynamic, self-transforming, semi-translucent membrane that floats and morphs into a series of different forms within a large light-well.

Hydra’s shape is defined by a shifting 15′ x 15′ surface derived from a simple methodology involving the use of only one basic form. The cellular skin is composed of over 1,000 semi-translucent disks in 4 sizes, each folded into 3 dimensional form. The cells are organized radially across the surface, inspired by the radial symmetry of ocean-dwelling organisms. The benefit to such an organization is that it makes the cells adaptable, by allowing us to connect them in a number of different arrangements.

The transmittance of natural light through, and reflectance of light onto, the piece, make the tiny orbs appear to glow from within.

Hydra, incorporates both architecture and technology. A sensor actuator system works discretely behind the installation to perform movement in response to changing light within the light-well. The evolution of the form is intended to reveal the subtle changes of light quality throughout the day. The piece takes a spiny, draped position when the sunlight is direct. The hard light rakes the surface to reveal a sharp contrast along the little protruding polyps. When light is indirect — later or earlier in the day — Hydra floats gently upward to expose the backside of its skin, absorbing the diffuse light to reveal a soft, luminous pattern.

Lessons learned in the construction of Hydra could contribute to much larger responsive design applications. The development of the skin alone provides examples of how to manipulate one basic form – in this case the disk – to build a complex undulating surface.

Hydra will be complete by Tuesday, April 29, 2014. Construction is underway and we are looking for volunteers to join our team right away to help assemble the skin. If you are interested in helping with construction please email: Zach at or

*The Hydra installation is an experiment with sensor technology, which is the focus of our next competition titled ‘Soft Architecture 01’ to be released this September. If you are interested in dynamic architecture please stay tuned .

Project Sponsors :

The Fenway Alliance

Samuels and Associates

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