The IDEA Lab (Interdisciplinary Design + Experimental Architecture Lab) is an interdisciplinary design laboratory that promotes architectural innovation through material experimentation and performance-based design strategies — bridging research, education and practice. We aim to understand the expressive, experiential and environmentally beneficial possibilities of innovative material strategies. Exploration of the role of geometry in material behavior and building performance through computational methods and hands-on prototyping, application of smart and adaptive technologies and engagement with industry are at the core of our design investigations.

Dr. Kihong Ku — along with interdisciplinary and international collaborators from the associated fields of textile design, textile engineering, structural engineering, interaction design, industrial design, building science and architecture — explores problems from the product to building and urban scales through integrated research and teaching approaches.

Acknowledging the broad and rapid societal, environmental and technological changes that are impacting the built environment, our interdisciplinary and experimental design research framework focuses on discoveries and dissemination:

  • Innovative material strategies that offer new formal and spatial possibilities.
  • Experimental and computational design approaches, involving examination of existing theory, geometric explorations and prototyping from partial to full scale mock-ups.
  • Understanding the impact of emerging knowledge in the associated fields of design, engineering, sciences, design technology, building technology and material innovations, with the goal to enhance building performance and human experience. 

Why Jefferson?

The IDEA Lab creates an environment that builds on Jefferson’s culture of interdisciplinary collaboration, experimentation and innovation — Nexus Learning. It bridges research with education, practice with academia, and design thinking with the sciences.

This collaborative environment is beneficial to students who are at the forefront of design research topics at all levels from doctoral, master’s, to undergraduate students, as the students actively participate in advancing knowledge and also interact and learn from each other. Research is integrated through innovative pedagogy into coursework offering real-world context through project based and active learning.

It is critical to develop new approaches that connect design thinking, computational thinking, science, and making, to advance our understanding of such challenges and bring new ideas to life. IDEA Lab creates an integrated platform for students, faculty and industry to explore these issues.

Kihong Ku, Director, IDEA Lab

Kihong Ku
Program Director — PhD in Architecture and Design Research
Associate Professor

Marcia Weiss
Program Director — BS and MS in Textile Design
Associate Professor

Lyn Godley
Director, Jefferson Center of Immersive Arts for Health
Professor, Industrial Design

Brian George
Director, Graduate Engineering Programs
Associate Professor, Engineering

Research & Projects

Solar Decathlon China global competition

Solar Decathlon Challenge

Dr. Ku and his 11 fifth-year architecture students led the development of an innovative environmentally responsive ETFE-based double-skin envelope for the 2021 Solar Decathlon China Competition as part of an international team of three universities, Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Zhejiang University-University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Joint Institute, and Thomas Jefferson University.

Experimental Deployable Structure

Experimental Deployable Structure

This design-build installation explored a scissor hinge based deployable structure, investigating the role of parametric design tools and prototyping during design development. The project involved precedent studies, iterations of hands-on experimentation with physical and digital models, incorporating cost and constructability considerations. A final full-scale installation was exhibited during Design Philadelphia 2021.

Reconfigurable Mold System example

Reconfigurable Mold System

Aiming to reduce the need for custom milled molds, we developed a digitally controlled deformable mold system for complex-shaped architectural textile composite panels. Results of this project outline a digital process for fabricating textile composite panels and help to define key parameters of the adjustable mold system.

Textile material strategies being presented

Textile Material Strategies

This project was funded by a 2015 NCARB Award, launching the IDEA Studio, a curricular approach in the spring semester of 2016. The goal of this project was to establish a framework for an interdisciplinary design and experimental architecture studio approach that integrates practice concerns and educational objectives.