SOFT Rockers

SOFT Rockers
By Sheila Kennedy, Professor of the Practice of Architecture
April 25 – May 8, 2011
Killian Court

Recharge yourself and your electronics while relaxing with friends outdoors in Killian Court. SOFT Rockers are smart, clean energy-charging stations disguised as outdoor rocking lounge furniture.  Unlike conventional “hard” urban infrastructure, the SOFT Rocker leverages its environment in a dynamic manner by using the human power of balance to create an interactive 1.5 axis 35 watt solar tracking system. Soft power electronics designed for this project charge the 12 ampere-hour battery and store solar energy harvested during the day. Put your body weight in play with an interactive, real-time, energy-harvesting feedback loop that senses how you orient the rocker to the sun. Charge or run any USB device from speakers to cell phones and bring your friends to enjoy cool lighting loops at night for social gatherings.

The leaf-like loop form of SOFT Rockers explores how standard softwood panels can be mass-customized to adapt to the latitude and sun angle of any site using parametric design software and automated fabrication with a lightweight KUKA robotic arm. SOFT Rockers combine hi-tech and low-tech design strategies: it produces electricity but engages the body and works like furniture “by hand”; it mixes sun tracking and social dynamics; it is a site specific object and a flexible form family of “soft” wood construction. SOFT Rockers blur distinctions between pleasure and work and recasts power generation as an integrated and distributed public activity rather than a centralized, singular off-site project of “engineering.”

SOFT Rockers Team
Sheila Kennedy, MIT Professor of the Practice of Architecture; James Bayless, UC March 2014, KVA Intern; Kaitlyn Bogenschutz, UC BS Arch 2013, KVA Intern; Wardah Inam, MIT PhD Candidate 2015, Electrical Engineering; Jungmin Nam, GSD March 2009, KVA Designer; Shevy Rockcastle, MIT March 2011; Phil Seaton, MIT March 2012; Matt Trimble, MIT March 2008, RADLAB; Adnon Zolij, MIT BS 2010, Electrical Engineer Vicor, Inc.

Special Thanks
Vicor, Inc. Applications Engineering provided power electronics support.  Picor, a subsidiary, provided Cool-O-Ring controllers for battery/load interfacing. Global Solar, Inc. Technology Development Team provided advance samples of Gen II flexible photovoltaics. LightTape, Inc. assisted with manufacture of custom electroluminescent lighting materials. Peter Murray at Fine Finish, Inc., in Waltham, MA.



A pioneer in the integration of technology and design, Sheila Kennedy is Professor of the Practice in the Department of Architecture. Her research and teaching at MIT focus on the creation of new energy systems for buildings, cities, and regions, and on the design and development of flexible, mobile and embedded technologies in materials, objects and architecture. A principal of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd. (KVA), Kennedy’s work was featured in MoMA’s exhibition on breakthrough designs for new technologies, Design and the Elastic Mind. She, along with her partner Frano Violich, was designated one of Fast Company’s Masters of Design – “insightful and original thinkers who are designing new ways of working, competing, learning, leading and innovating.” She also explores the connections between technology, the environment and social issues, as in her firm’s creation of the Portable Light Project, a non-profit global initiative that enables people in the developing world to generate their own power through the use of energy-harvesting solar textiles.