Simulation of plant movements

Completed research project

Kinematics of planar, curved and corrugated plant surfaces as concept generators for deployable systems in architecture (Collaborative research center SFB-TRR 141).


  • New requirements for buildings
  • Plants as concept generators for adaptive structures
  • Biomimetic working process in the SFB-TRR 141

Project description

New requirements for buildings

The urgent demand for more energy-efficient and sustainable architecture is leading to a growing interest in adaptive building envelopes that can adjust themselves to changing external environmental conditions or internal comfort requirements. To date, these systems have been technically conceptualized by either rigid components or soft textiles joined along a straight axis of translation and/or rotation by highly strained hinges or bearings. These concepts have their limitations in building construction for several reasons:

  • In particular, larger scale adaptive planar or curved structures, e.g. retractable roofs, are unique constructions designed once for specific functional requirements without prototypes or extensive test runs. The building is the prototype and has to function on the first attempt.
  • Because of the growing interest of architecture in non-standard geometries, adaptability to a wide range of spatial configurations is of in­creasing importance. This is a specific challenge for medium-scale components such as louvers or blinds. Adaptation to irregular geometries can often only be achieved with additional mechanical complexity making them often expensive, prone to failure and maintenance-intensive.

For kinetic systems in building construction, the criteria of »robustness« and »adaptability« are usually of major importance, whereas other aspects such as as »accuracy« or »velocity« are of less relevance.

simulation of the waterworks plant Aldrovanda
simulation of one half of the Venus flytrap

Plants as concept generators for adaptive structures

Movements of many plant surfaces fulfil these criteria. Petals and leaves show countless robust motion principles important for many biologically vital functions. They are based on the locally adapted stiffness of their components and avoid highly concentrated strain. An important point is the elucidation of the patterns of movement and principles of actuation and its interplay with the structural set-up of the mechanism: plant movements can be actuated hydraulically in an active way by turgor changes that lead to reversible (nastic) movement or irreversibly (tropistic) growth by cell-shape changes, in a passive manner by hygroscopic swelling and shrinking or because of cohesion forces. Other mechanisms use the release of stored elastic energy in pre-stressed structures or are initiated by external mechanical forces.

Biomimetic working process in the SFB-TRR 141

The project aims to improve understanding of the mechanical principles that underlie the movements of plant surfaces by quantitatively analysing their biomechanics and by simulating the movement and actuation mechanisms with kinetic FE models. The biological concept generators are selected such that diverse form generation patterns are included and various external and autonomous actuation mechanisms are covered. Variation of the geometrical and mechanical parameters in the FE models will improve insights into the evolutionary development of the form-structure-function relationship. In parallel, investigations will be carried out as to whether and, if so, how the mechanisms can be abstracted, scaled-up and integrated into kinetic structures for architecture that can be adapted to a wide range of geometrical and structural conditions. Technical implementation is based on the use of fibre-reinforced polymers with locally adapted stiffness through variation in fibre placement.

The project will develop a generalized and comparative methodology for the analysis, functional description, simulation and classification of movements of planar, curved and corrugated surfaces found in various plant organs and for transfer between biological studies and technical implementation.

Project data

Project titel:
Kinematic principles and motion design in shape-shifting plant structures (A04)

German Research Foundation (DFG), CRC/Transregio SFB-TRR 141 "Biological Design and Integrative Structures. Analysis, Simulation and Implementation in Architecture ", GEPRIS project number 260964992
Project partners:
Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE), University of Stuttgart

Institute for Textile Technology, Fiber-Based Materials and Textile Machinery (ITFT), University of Stuttgart
Plant Biomechanics Group Freiburg (PBG), University of Freiburg
Renate Sachse



  1. Körner, A., Born, L., Mader, A., Sachse, R., Saffarian, S., Westermeier, A. S., Poppinga, S., Bischoff, M., Gresser, G. T., Milwich, M., Speck, T., & Knippers, J. (2018). Flectofold - a biomimetic compliant shading device for complex free form facades. Smart Materials and Structures, 27.
  2. Westermeier, A. S., Sachse, R., Poppinga, S., Vögele, P., Adamec, L., Speck, T., & Bischoff, M. (2018). How the carnivorous waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa) snaps. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 285.
  3. Bischoff, M., Sachse, R., Körner, A., Westermeier, A., Born, L., Poppinga, S., Gresser, G., Speck, T., & Knippers, J. (2017). Modeling and analysis of the trapping mechanism of Aldrovanda vesiculosa as biomimetic inspiration for façade elements. Proceedings of the IASS Annual Symposium 2017. Annette Bögle, Manfred Grohmann (eds.) “Interfaces:”. 25-28th September, 2017, Hamburg, Germany, 2017.
  4. Born, L., Körner, A., Schieber, G., Westermeier, A. S., Poppinga, S., Sachse, R., Bergmann, P., Betz, O., Bischoff, M., Speck, T., Knippers, J., Milwich, M., & Gresser, G. T. (2017). Fiber-reinforced plastics with locally adapted stiffness for bio-inspired hingeless, deployable architectural systems. Proceedings of the 21th Symposium on Composites, Bremen, Germany.
  5. Westermeier, A., Poppinga, S., Körner, A., Born, L., Sachse, R., Saffarian, S., Knippers, J., Bischoff, M., Gresser, G., & Speck, T. (2017). Keine Gelenkbeschwerden – Wie Pflanzen sich bewegen und die Technik inspirieren. J. Knippers, U. Schmid & T. Speck (eds.), Baubionik – Biologie beflügelt Architektur, 30 – 39. Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde, Serie C, Band 82, Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Stuttgart.
  6. Poppinga, S., Körner, A., Sachse, R., Born, L., Westermeier, A., Hesse, L., Knippers, J., Bischoff, M., Gresser, G. T., & Speck, T. (2016). Compliant Mechanisms in Plants and Architecture. In Jan Knippers, Klaus G. Nickel, Thomas Speck (Eds.). Biomimetic Research for Architecture and Building Construction. Volume 8 of the series Biologically-Inspired Systems. Springer (pp. 169–193).
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