What is Embedded Intelligence?

In nature, systems perform optimally through the effective differentiation of matter and hierarchy— from the material organizations of shells to the social behavior found in bee colonies. In material systems, such as tortoise and lobster shells, variable stiffness achieves structural rigidity while maintaining flexibility within a single surface. In social collective systems, ants and bees employ finely choreographed rule sets to establish robustness within a single colony or nest. Across the many scales of natural phenomena, intelligence is an embedded characteristic through which highly effective and differentiated performance emerges.

This 10-day intensive program will combine research in the areas of natural systems and composite materials with methods of advanced manufacturing. We will explore the possibility for biological models to influence and enhance architectural systems, wherein intelligence is embedded through differentiated yet continuous high-performance surfaces.

Applied Learning

Workshop participants will design, prototype, and fabricate mock ups for a composite structure on New York City’s East River. Responsive to the river’s flows and fluctuations, this structure will serve as a prototype for future research and development in the area of high performance architectural surfaces. Curriculum instruction will be led by a team of industry thought leaders and expert consultants.

Digital Technology Topics

Rhino 5.0




Python Scripting




Autodesk Vasari


Integrated Learning Modules

Through rigorous hands-on experimentation, we will search for novel design strategies that utilize the embedded intelligence found in both material systems and the fabrication techniques that shape them.


In Module 1 we will develop an understanding of the inherent properties of various materials, and explore ways to exploit these in the design of material systems. We will investigate a material’s ability to compute, techniques for calibrating its performance digitally, and the opportunities that arise from the constraints imposed by their specific fabrication techniques.


All materials are embedded with implicit capabilities; in Module 2, we will discover the many ways in which natural systems use material strategies to optimize performance. We will explore variable stiffness surfaces, environmental optimization methods, and how systems in nature employ robustness and plasticity through various geometric, mathematic, and organizational logics. 


With the skills and knowledge obtained in Modules 1 and 2, we will explore differentiated material systems with the ability to produce architectural space. We will establish techniques for working seamlessly between physical and digital models, working through multiple prototypes using both additive and subtractive fabrication methods.

header image credit: AA Emergent Technologies and Design Programme 2012-2013