Future forms of beauty : Two awarded projects from the called launched by the Research Chair on Beauty studies


On November 27, 2020, the Steering committee of the Research Chair on Beauty studies designated the laureates of its call for collective and transdisciplinary research projects.

The Research Chair on Beauty studies held by PSL wishes to support the implementation dedicated to prospective approaches on the subject of beauty. It provides a global grant of 35.000,00 euros.

The two selected projects

Adaptative Beauty: Transferring natural elegance to architected materials
Project led by José Bico, ESPCI - PSL, in partnership with University of Stuttgart (Germany).


Adaptative Beauty

What could be more familial than a cone pine? Its scales, however, perform an engineering feat with an amazing economy of means. Depending on the ambient humidity, the scales open or close, allowing the pine nuts to spread. This sturdy functionality is essentially based on the perfect combination of two materials and does not involve any active processes. Can we draw inspiration from this natural elegance to design weather-sensitive adaptive architectural structures whose shape spontaneously responds to subtle environmental variations?

The Adaptive beauty project aims to develop three-dimensional structures that can transform themselves autonomously according to their environment. This project associates the PMMH Laboratory of ESPCI Paris - PSL with the Institute for Computational Design and Construction of the University of Stuttgart. It will bring together hygromorphic additive manufacturing techniques developed at the ICDC for architecture, and a new concept of deployable structures studied at PMMH to explore the elegance of weather-sensitive structures.

Members of the scientific crew

Benoît Roman, CNRS Senior Scientist (Research Director), Director GDR MePhy, Mechanics and Multi-Scale Physics

Maïka Saint-Jean, PhD candidate at the PMMH Laboratory, ESPCI-PSL: Morphable plates with activated stiffness

Tiffany Cheng, PhD candidate in Engineering, Institute for Computational Design and Consctruction (ICD), University of Stuttgart

Dylan Wood, PhD candidate in Engineering, Institute for Computational Design and Consctruction (ICD), University of Stuttgart

Achim Menges, Professor and Director of the Institute for Computational Design and Construction, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Stuttgart

Structural colors
Project led by Ann Veronica Janssens, Beaux-Arts de Paris - PSL & Dr. María Boto Ordóñez, Researcher at KASK / School of Arts Gent (Belgique)


Structural colors

© Maria Boto Ordoñez

In living beings, colours come from pigments and structures. Structural colouring produces colour by microscopically structured surfaces in layers thin enough to interfere with visible light. These colours are often constructed from simple biological elements such as cellulose, chitin, keratin and the pigment melanin. Melanin is the most common pigment in nature. In living organisms, organized melanin granules can interact with light on a nanoscale and generate colours that differ from brown (the colour of melanin), which are structural colours. 

It was following these observations that Dr. Maria Boto Ordonez began to study the possibilities of using these structural colours to apply them to the arts by deciding to carry out this research with the contribution of the visual artist Ann Veronica Janssens. This research aims to design structures to obtain colours rarely available in nature, to create a palette of biodegradable and non-toxic colours of innovative beauty, to produce experiments and to question the question of beauty & structural colours from a sensorial point of view. In addition, the project wishes to question this research from a philosophical and aesthetic point of view with the participation of researchers in such involved fields.

Members of the scientific crew

Dr. Matthew Shawkey, Associate Professor at the Biology Department Department of Biology, Evolution and Optics of Nanostructures, Ghent University (Belgique).

Pr. Nathan C. Gianneschi, Professor of Chemistry, Science & Engineering materials and Biomedical Engineering, Northwestern University, Illinois (USA).

Pr. Ali Dhinojwala, Dean of the College of Polymer Science and Engineering, Akron, Ohio (USA).