Top 22 Smart Materials for Better Parametric Designs for the Future

Smart Materials are fuel for parametric wildfire – A dynamic synergy between innovation, sustainability and efficiency.

Sat Aug 19, 2023

As per a report by IMARC Group, the global smart market will reach US$ 97.3 Billion by 2028. Architects and designers proactively integrate these intelligent materials into their design tools to revolutionise architecture and parametric outcomes.

Let’s explore the top 22 innovative materials and ways to implement them in the parametric architecture.

Powerup Parametric Design with Smart Materials

Smart materials modify in response to external environments or stimuli, offering several benefits when integrated with parametric design, such as,

  1. Promote sustainability by reducing environmental impact.
  2. Improve material efficiency through optimal resource utilisation
  3. Provide low-maintenance and cost-effective solutions
  4. Enhance aesthetics and sensory experiences
  5. Ensure structural performance and durability
  6. Allows complex geometries and intricate detailingFacilitates interactive and responsive architectural elements

Top 22 Smart Materials for Better Parametric Design Architecture

1. Nitinol (Alloy of Nickel and Titanium)

Smart Materials


Shape-memory material, like Nitinol, can remember and change back to its original shape after deformation, facilitating dynamic and adaptive structures in the parametric architecture.

For example, the Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi uses rhinoceros and grasshopper to design over 1000 aluminium and nitinol modules in its kinetic facade.

2. Piezoelectric Tiles

Piezoelectric Tiles

Piezoelectric tiles can generate electricity when subjected to mechanical stress to provide electrical supply, energy efficiency and sustainability.

Margot Krasojevic proposes a trolley bus garden in Seattle to convert bus pulses into electricity.

3. Thermochromic Tiles

Thermochromic materials change colour when exposed to temperature differences, facilitating interactive experiences, visual aesthetics and spatial temperature management.

Here’s an example of thermochromic tiles used in the ICEBERG diving platform by Bulot+Collins

Thermochromic Tiles

4. Self-healing Concrete

Self-healing Concrete

Self-healing concrete can self-repair cracks and damages without external intervention. It enables parametric structures to retain their longevity, durability, design complexity and intricacies without compromising structural integrity.

5. Biodynamic Cement

Biodynamic Cement

Biodynamic cement contains self-cleaning agents, like bacteria or polymers, to clean the material surface when exposed to environmental impact.

For instance, the Manuel Gea González Hospital façade includes a Rhino-designed double facade containing titanium dioxide to absorb smog during UV light and wash it off in rain.

6. Thermobiometal


Thermobiometals are lightweight, durable, heat-responsive materials that enable dynamic and adaptive design solutions, which can curl on heating and flatten when cooled. 

For example, the Bloom pavilion, by Doris Kim Sung, features advanced computation of 14,000 thermobiometal modules that curl up in the sun for shade and ventilation.

7. Hydroceramics

Hydroceramics are composites of hydrogel and clay ceramic. It enhances energy efficiency by lowering interior temperatures through heat- and water-responsive properties.

Here’s the proposal for a cooling pavilion by IAAC students showcasing hydro ceramic skin.


8. Electrochromic Glasses

Electrochromic Glasses

Electrochromic glasses are smart glasses that can change their opacity with electricity. It can tint windows and create privacy screens, smart mirrors, security windows, sunroofs, and wearable devices.

9. Photochromic Materials

Photochromic Materials

Photochromic materials change colour in response to light. Advanced tools can be used to design and simulate interactive photochromic structures to protect from UV rays and create dynamic facades.

For instance, the Or2 photochromic canopy structure by Christoph Klemmt & Rajat Sodhi features polygonal photochromic segments varying in colour by UV ray intensity.

10. Liquid Crystal Glass

Liquid crystals change their optical properties with electricity to provide dynamic glazing. These are faster than the electrochromic glass and change their opacity instead of tinting them. 

We can find the glazing technologies incorporating liquid crystals on the roof of BAFTA 195 Piccadilly in London.

Liquid Crystal Glass

11. Phase-change Materials (PCM)

Phase-change Materials (PCM)

Phase-changing materials store and release heat when changing from one state to another. These are incorporated into building materials to improve passive cooling and regulate interior temperatures.

The Floating Ball of Rotterdam, Netherlands, incorporates PCM in the internal glazing as a thermal buffer.

12. Carbon Fibre

Carbon Fibre

Carbon Fibre is a sturdy yet lightweight material. Its strength-to-weight ratio, material efficiency, and design flexibility make it ideal for many parametric projects.

For example, the Buga Fibre Pavillion designed by ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart incorporates 150,000 meters of carbon fibre.

13. Aerogel


Aerogel’s high porosity and low thermal conductivity make it ideal for insulation, energy efficiency and thermal management in sustainability projects. 

Brygga Henningsvær House, designed by SKAARA Arkitekter AS, features translucent aerogel panels in the roof and facade, glowing as a soft light in the dark and insulation in the daylight.

14. Graphene Composites

Graphene Composites

Graphene is extremely strong yet the lightest building material known. It facilitates innovation, flexibility and efficiency through its high-conductive, low-weight properties.

Skanska Costain Strabag JV uses Graphene-reinforced 3D-printed concrete in London railways to optimise their strength and tensility.

15. Morphluid

Morphluid aims to create a passive cooling system using movable structures with transition liquids to control the heat and light entering the built space. Evaporation triggers movement to provide shade.

Here’s a ‘Morphluid’ prototype developed by IAAC


16. Soft Robotics (SoRo)

Soro involves soft, flexible, lightweight robots for passive cooling. It utilises liquids with low boiling points for inflation and deflation, providing an energy-efficient shading solution for architecture.

Here’s a ‘Soft Robotics’ prototype developed by IAAC.

Soft Robotics (SoRo)

17. Programmable Materials

Programmable Materials

Programmable material refers to materials with dynamic and adaptive responses to environmental or external stimuli through computational programming and alterations. The Aguahoja project showcases the impact of programmable water-based biocomposites in response to environmental stimuli.

18. Light-generating Concrete

Light-generating concrete is an intelligent material that absorbs sunlight or artificial and emits visible light in the dark. Apart from promoting sustainability through energy efficiency, these materials can also increase the aesthetic appeal and functionality of the parametric structures.

Here’s an example of a light-emitting Van Gogh cycle path by Daan Roosegaarde.

Light-generating Concrete

19. Hydro Membrane

The hydro membrane offers energy-efficient passive cooling solutions by altering their permeability and barrier properties when exposed to moisture to regulate interior heat through increased evaporation rates.

Here’s the hydro membrane developed by Luisaroth.

20. Hygromorphic Materials

Hygromorphic materials change the structural shape of the material in response to moisture or water molecules. Designers can manipulate these materials through parametric configuration and simulation for desired adaptive responses.

Here’s an example of HygroSkin found in Meteorosensitive Pavilion by Achim Menges Architects.

Hygromorphic Materials

21. Water-driven Breathing Skin

Water-driven breathing skin mimics breathing-like motion in response to water or moisture, enabling an adaptive structure that alters humidity or moisture levels.

Here’s the image of water-driven breathing skin developed by IAAC

Water-driven Breathing Skin

22. Dielectric Elastomers

Dielectric elastomers create adaptive, lightweight, and energy-efficient building components by transforming their shape under an electric field. Parametrically designed buildings incorporate their shape-shifting abilities to provide dynamic and sustainable structures.

Here’s an example of a self-regulating homeostatic facade system by Decker Yeadon.

Dielectric Elastomers

Embrace the Era of Material Intelligence

Integrating smart materials into the software database is vital to manipulate the desired outcomes. Advanced designing software tools such as Rhino, Houdini, Maya, Blender, etc., optimise the material properties to maximise their potential by providing,

  1. Modelling and simulation
  2. Real-time visualisation and virtual reality (VR) applications
  3. Performance analysis of the material
  4. Material databases and libraries
  5. Design collaboration and review.
Smart materials facilitate innovations in the realm of parametric designs. Mastering and manipulating them through suitable software tools can propel the parametric potentials and competitive excellence.
Enrol in Futurly to learn material manipulation using advanced software tools and expert mentoring. Let’s embrace the era of material intelligence!

Here’s an example of a self-regulating homeostatic facade system by Decker Yeadon.

FAQ: Smart Materials

1. What is parametric design? 

Parametric design is an approach that uses algorithms and parameters to create and manipulate complex, adaptive, and customisable architectural forms.

2. What is the scope of smart materials architecture? 

It involves integrating responsive materials that adapt to environmental changes, enhancing energy efficiency and user experience.

3. How will parametric architecture use smart materials? 

To create dynamic, interactive structures that respond to stimuli, enabling efficient and sustainable building solutions.

4. What are some smart materials examples?

Smart materials examples include shape memory alloys, piezoelectric materials, electrochromic glass, and self-healing concrete.

5. How do advanced software tools support smart materials? 

It facilitates smart material integration into parametric designs by enabling simulations and optimising material behaviour for enhanced performance.

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Architectural Journalist

Saili Sawantt
An Architect + Writer, Saili has worked as an Architectural writer & brand storyteller where she has collaborated with firms, studios, organizations, luxury brands, events & educational institutions to communicate in the real estate & travel industry. Her recent initiatives include curating an online workshop on communication and networking within the AEC industry. She is a commentator on the design industry’s upkeep through her social handles while also being an avid reader and traveler.