Architects who fail to run with the trend sparked by radical smart materials towards adaptive and kinetic buildings will be left behind, says a leading expert.

The use of materials that change their properties in reaction to heat, moisture or light will “revolutionise” architecture, German architect Axel Ritter said.

Buildings of the future will be able to change colour, size, shape and opacity in reaction to stimuli. Architects will be able to design buildings that change their geometry according to the weight of the people inside, he said.

“I’m currently working on a project with an expandable building structure using smart materials. I use a material that expands using water and I have created a large-scale activator … It leads to buildings that are reactive to rain water. Maybe, in the future, we could have buildings that expand or contract depending on rain or growing buildings that expand in one way depending on water. This could be combined with hydraulic or pneumatic components.”

Ritter, who will be speaking about smart materials as part of RMIT’s Green Building and Design Conference on Wednesday, says that the real benefit of smart materials is for sustainability. The materials take energy directly from the environment so they do not necessarily need to be on the grid. Smart materials are both the “sensor” and the “actor”, he said, so they also cut out the need for wires and tubes.

Using thermal bimetals can allow architects to experiment with shape-changing buildings, Ritter said. Thermal bimetals include a combination of materials with different expansion coefficients that can cause a change in. Under changing temperatures this can lead one side of a compound to bend more than the other side, potentially creating an entirely different shape, he said.

“The bending is temperature dependent. You can use this as a positioning element or directly to create other shapes or transformations.”

Studios that can maximise the potential of smart materials and phase change materials (PCM) could develop “an edge” over other firms, Ritter said.

Axel Ritter will present ‘Green Smart Materials in Architecture and Interior Architecture’ at the Green Building and Design Conference, which will run 9-10 September at the Melbourne Convention Centre. Delegates are also able to attend a virtual conference.