san luis obispo, california


thomas fowler


library installation


about the project

Swarm – a synchronized mass made up of interacting parts. Inspired by the properties of skin, the project emerged through skin’s ability to rip, tear, and heal. We studied what happens when a skin tears and heals and found movements that mirrored the cycle. In addition, we used a found object (the umbrella) as the module to replicate the movement. Once we created one module, we decided to study different configurations of the same module and how one action would affect another.

As we studied three-dimensional properties of the module and configurations with different sized umbrellas, we went so far as to develop a kinetic building skin system that would allow natural filtered light to enter when the module was open and less light when closed. The exhibit is the first layer for the skeleton of such a system.

The installation was later redefined as an entry to the Chicago Street Furniture Competition. Swarmbrella is a green canopy that redefines the function of umbrellas. What normally provides shelter and comfort for one or two people now serves as a catalyst for community and social interaction. Space under the canopy can instantaneously become a place for gathering and transition between isolated alleys and public green space.

The kinetic umbrella components enable the canopy to adapt to different spatial conditions giving each installation various forms with a unique character. Since all components are made of steel, the structure is able to span vast amounts of space with minimal support. Steel tensile cables act as the main structure for this skeletal system which can be attached to a variety of surfaces. Swarmbrella’s modular nature allows for easy dismantling and can be reinstalled in backyards, retail spaces, or even restaurants. The bones of the canopy are ideal nursery grounds for the growth of native plants and the nests of birds.