Spiraling and swiveling – the large, metal structure currently sitting in the lobby of Princeton University’s School of Architecture opens and closes like a blossom. An aluminum blossom with sharp, louvered blades for petals.

It’s a Cool Oculus, a high-tech chimney prototype that uses passive cooling techniques to keep a building comfortable in a desert climate. This week, that structure and another display are at the center of an exhibition and conference, Ultrastructures, which explore the complex and intriguing connections between the macro level of buildings and design and the micro level of physical processes such as thermodynamics.

The conference, featuring several Princeton faculty members and guest speakers, will take place this Saturday, Sept. 19, at the architecture school from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The conference is free and open to the public.

The exhibit, which opened Sept. 14, will run through Oct. 2. The event is supported by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Tides Foundation, the architecture school, and the Cooling and Heating for Architecturally Optimized Systems (CHAOS) Lab, a research group headed by Forrest Meggers, an assistant professor at the architecture school and the Andlinger Center. The conference will be hosted by Meggers; Dorit Aviv, who earned a master’s degree in 2014 from the architecture school; and Axel Kilian, an assistant professor at the school as well.

“The Ultrastructures conference and exhibition are an attempt to elucidate better the connection of large scale things we design in architecture with the small-scale processes that we as engineers and researchers have to understand in order to design the operation and true function of physical objects in the world,” said Meggers.

An example of such processes would be the transformation of liquid water into vapor, he said. These mechanisms would drive the design and form of structures.

The Cool Oculus that is on display started as a thesis project of Aviv. Meggers advised her during her thesis research and collaborated on the development and construction of the prototype.

Aviv said a light mist would spray from the crown of the Cool Oculus, moisten the desert air, and would cause the temperature to decrease. Cooled air would sink to the space beneath. After the sun sets, the structure would open and lay bare the concrete slab below to the cool night air. The slab would then release the cool air into the space during the day.

The other structure on display is the Thermoheliodome, a pavilion located next to the Architectural Laboratory – south of the Frick Chemistry Laboratory. This exhibit, designed and constructed by Meggers and the CHAOS Lab, explores how geometry, the use of computation and robotics, and reflective surfaces can generate a cool feeling for people sitting and walking through the pavilion. Cooling temperatures are reflected or radiate from the Mylar-covered cell structures that make up the Thermoheliodome.

The conference will also be addressing the renovation of the Architectural Laboratory into the new Embodied Computation Laboratory, discussions on prototype and research development at Princeton, and other topics.

For more information and a schedule, please go to the architecture school website at soa.princeton.edu or the CHAOS Lab homepage, chaos.princeton.edu. For more information on the Andlinger Center, go to acee.princeton.edu.


  • Forrest Meggers

Related Center

  • Faculty member, seated at end of row of colleagues, leads panel discussion.

    Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment