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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Matters of Activity. Image Space Material

Material Form Function

The Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity is currently hiring outstanding researchers and designers.

The project Material Form Function especially encourages applications by:

  • Candidates with a completed academic education and/or PhD in Design or Architecture with a special focus on material and geometrical systems, interactive or adaptive structures. Further qualifications in computational modeling, biomaterials and/or smart materials are an advantage.
  • Candidates with a PhD in Design Research/Design Studies with special emphasis on materials and structures (e.g. tangible interfaces, soft robotics, smart materials, wearables) and a high reflectivity with regard to design practices and design cultures
  • Candidates with a doctorate in science or engineering with a special interest in design of materials systems and structures.


The project Material Form Function aims to understand form and function as the product of the material’s inherent structure and geometry. One major goal is to reach an advanced understanding of structure-function relationships and how this knowledge can be transferred to the development of efficient and sustainable artifacts and devices. Our second goal is to shed new light on the manifold relationships between material, form, and function from an integrative perspective. This will not only result in a better understanding of the interplay between material—structure—function; it will also yield  new concepts, genealogies, and theories of form and Gestaltung in cultural studies, art history, and design theory. As we will make extensive use of mathematics and digital modeling to investigate and test material structures, the project will lead to a more robust description and analysis of complex forms through mathematics and applied geometry. The aim is to establish a new theory and practice of adaptive design that transcends the prescriptive processes of result-oriented design. Our approach based on active matter and analog material code opens up new research and design perspectives on digital fabrication, which is still widely dominated by the coded implementation of form into perfectly malleable, but ultimately passive material. Although we face massive environmental and social changes today, the education of future designers still too often follows rather traditional paths. An advanced interdisciplinary understanding of design is urgently needed, not to produce more design, but rather to produce merely the minimal needed amount of design. Finally, we aim to reach an advanced understanding of active structures, as found in responsive materials, interactive materials, or adaptive materials. Responsivity, interactivity, and adaptivity can be conceived as different modes of material performance that are not only bound to specific material geometries, but also to symbolic operations and cultural techniques.
The project starts with the following experimental settings:

From cellulosic materials we can learn, inter alia, how the structure of a material and its orientation can change its shape and trigger a movement or a convolution. Beyond advances in biological materials research, we envisage that the research of the setting Shape-Changing Cellulosic Materials and Systems will have a number of potential implications for design- related questions and strategies.

By addressing the emerging concept of "material ecology", the setting Tesselated Materials Systems aims to revise the understanding of one the most notorious principles in the history of modernist design and architecture, “form follows function”, in the context of active materials and material structures.

The setting Smart Material Interfaces explores the broader field of interface and interaction design in relation to active matter and smart materials in order to examine how natural material interfaces and structures can be used as models for the development of efficient, sustainable smart material interfaces.

Principal Investigators: Blümle (Art History), Evans (Mathematics), Fratzl (Materials Science), Hengge (Biology), Mareis (Design & Design Research), Nyakatura (Biology), Polthier (Mathematics), Ribault (Gestaltung), Sauer (Architecture & Design)