The prototype borrows from Frank Herbert’s idea of a ChairDog. In Herbert’s universe the ChairDog is described in multiple stories as a ubiquitous object with multiple functional and responsive attributes :

The room’s standard model chairDogs had been well trained to comfort their masters, McKie noted. One of them nudged him behind the knees until he dropped his bag and took a reluctant seat. The chairdog began massaging his back. Obviously it had been instructed to make him comfortable while someone was summoned…
He indicated a chairdog against the wall to his right, snapped his fingers. The semi-sentient artifact glided to a position behind McKie. “Please be seated.”
McKie, his caution re alerted by Bolin’s reference to “uninhibited conversation,” sank into the chairdog, patting it until it assumed the contours he wanted.

One of the interesting attribute was that Herbert thought of the ChairDogs not as artifacts with multiple actuators but thought of them almost as if they had lifelike responsive qualities and moved without the use of motors or actuators.

Philip Beesley: Hylozoic SoilHylozoic Soil – Philip Beesley et al

Petting Zoo MinimaFormsPetting Zoo – Minimaforms

It is also inspired by contemporary work by Artists/Architects like Philip Beesley and Minimaforms.

Topo Chair is based on investigating material behaviors and exploring possibility of using complaint mechanism within the framework of animating built environments. Complaint mechanisms are flexible mechanisms that can transfer input forces (such as the weight of a person sitting on the chair) at some other point to perform some usable output action (such as generating a sinusoidal motion on the chair surface, massaging the person sitting on the chair ).

TopoChair is also conceptually based on the idea of ‘hylozoism’, the ancient belief that all matter has life. It seeks to question the popular science fiction imagination of the built environment of the future being largely static .



TopoChair also seeks to extend the idea of a virtual pet in the physical domain.
What it does?

The chair responds to the users weight and encloses the user with a soft shell when the user sits on it. It is intetended to fuction as a personal ‘petting’ space , where the user can think and contemplate without external distraction.

In parallel work is being done on integrating pressure and proximity sensors to trigger communication with the user through a twitter feed.


The chair is based on a process of topology optimization based complaint mechanism design . A system to design such mechanisms was developed in the Rhino3d/Grasshopper . The process consists of the following steps :
1. Input two dimensional design space boundary
2. Define loads, supports and intended transformation sequences.
3. Generate topology optimization based complaint mechanism .
4. Extract contours based on stiffness gradients.
5. Define flexure hinges and rigid body material in the result.
6. Convert results for fabrication .


Base volumetric modelling


rh1 rh2 rh3           rh6

Sectional results




rh4 rh4a rh4b-deflection rh4b-principal strees

Stiffness, Stress and Deflection distribution