Ferroform: Organic Responsiveness in the Built World

Anna Gusman + Ava Kling


We are researching the phenomenon of bio-magnetism and geomagnetism to develop a kinetic architectural system which will respond to fluctuations in human interaction. We are using the magnetic field as a figurative representation of the imbedded symbiosis between a space and inhabitants, allowing new behaviors and emotions to blossom in people from seeing a spatially manifested sensitivity to their presence. Our implemented system promotes the idea of the environment as a living organism: sensing, feeling and changing just as people do from the spaces they inhabit.

We will focus on developing hybrid materials and physical models using magnetic components such as ferrofluid and iron filings. As we experiment with permanent magnets and electromagnetic currents, we will develop and realize a room-sized installation for large-scale interaction.

Concept Sketch

The installation consists of a perforated, triple-layered, acrylic wall with varying sized acrylic rod “stems” that pass through it to create a dual sided interaction. At the ends of each rod are rare-earth neodymium magnets encased in ethereal, crystaline bulbs that sway towards and repel from the direction of the magnetic field allowing users to create their own individual experience.

Magnetism with Ferrofluid

Invented in 1963 by NASA’s Steve Papell as a liquid rocket fuel, ferrofluid is a colloidal liquid that magnetizes itself strongly in the presence of a magnetic field. Inside the liquid suspension are ferromagnetic nanoparticles that move in the direction of the field.

We will consider previously researched data on the effects of the magnetic field on ferrofluid. Working with this data in tandem with discovering experimental manufacturing processes of hybrid materials will help us develop a model that effectively relates the concept of the self to the movement of the architectural form.

Exploration Goals


In order to automate and more accurately manipulate a magnetic field, we started to explore electromagnetic currents and the systems which they effect. For fun, we built a simple solenoid using copper wires, alligator clips, batteries and an iron core to understand the flow of energy and the creation of the magnetic field.

Doing some research on electromagnets and their applications in household products. We took apart a microwave to analyze it’s transistor that produces an electromagnetic current. We began to wonder if we could have more calculated control over the magnetic field with a modular electromagnetic current.

Ferrofluid reacting to the shifting magnetic field.

Here are three states of magnetically activated ferrofluid- the closer the magnet, the stronger the magnetic field. When the ferrofluid is activated by a strong magnetic field, the triangulated tendrils decrease in height and width but increase in quantity. As the magnetic field weakens, the inverse occurs; the number of tendrils decrease while their individual sizes increase.

Ferrofluid oxidizing and conglomerating on the surface of water

Texture Explorations

More texture analysis. Comparison of hybrid ferrofluid and iron filing material to a sea urchin :)

Ink and Iron Filament Explorations

Ferrofluid + Iron Filament Hybrid Explorations

Light Explorations

Mold Casting- Form Abstraction

Using paintable rubber on a plaster cast to create a bouncy hollow shell.

Getting our hands dirty with clay, we quickly created a mold to cast a rubber mixture. We placed cut iron rods at the tips of the mold so that they could bend and extend in the direction of a controlled magnetic field. We thought of first experimenting with a “frond”-like shape for this reason.

Logic and Parametrization of the Built Form

Modeling Magnetic Fields in Grasshopper

  1. Create the boundary for the range of the field

2. Insert points for visible charges, invisible charges, and spin forces

3. Set the field values of these variables

4. Merge the charges and forces into one field

5. Assign the start points of the field lines

6. Trace the magnetic field

Exploring Flexibility and Reactivity

Working With Glass

Laser-cutting Parts


Acrylic sheeting, Acrylic rods



3 1/8’’ x 4’ x 8’ clear acrylic sheeting


90 1/4” clear extruded acrylic rods


Type A: 1/16” clear extruded acrylic sheeting: $2.05 / sqft

Type B: 1/8” clear extruded acrylic sheeting: $3.60 / sqft

Type C: 1/ 16” high strength high temperature silicone rubber sheeting


198 2.7lb Pull Neodymium rare earth magnets


1/2” x 1/2” x 1/2” aluminum mill angle Iron:


198 Rainbow crystal pendants