Nancy Cheng’s Work and Interests

shell_luminaries3-sshaping light icon


What if we could create something from almost nothing? I turn sheet material into sculptural form through cutting, folding and bending. Simple slits and curved folds can create unexpected 3D forms that catch and bounce light. Parametric design and digital fabrication can ramp up kirigami to create a variety of shading screens, lighting fixtures, and large-scale sculptures.

My research explores how efficient folding forms can modify environmental forces. After exploring light modulation, I have worked with Melbourne partners to examine how textured forms can affect airflow. We seek to understand how relief textures affect airflow in layered building facades, with the goal of creating exterior siding that increases ventilation without using any energy. In hot climates, more air movement would magnify the cooling effect of shading screens. For wood construction, better ventilation could reduce fungal deterioration and health threats from mold, which triggers allergy and asthma.

Wind-tunnel testing, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and hydrogen bubble visualization reveal “What patterns speed up vs. slow down the airflow? Why?” By showing how different forms funnel, shift or agitate the airflow, they provide clues for optimizing surface texture design.

digital sketching icon


What do designers consider as they work? What do expert designers do that beginners don’t do? A scanning pen allows capture of the graphic processes of artists and designers of all ages. The Digital Sketching collection of stroke-by-stroke animations contains life drawings from observation, diagrams from analytical thinking and design drawings from the imagination. By giving the same design problem to designers with different expertise, the research team could analyze and propose conceptual frameworks used for design. By dissecting the design problem into micro-tasks and tallying student mastery allows identification of learning progression steps. Strong examples of design drawings were subsequently used to create interactive lessons on sketching for space planning.

chengbei zhang icon


My studios lead students in using design methods to address real places and client needs, thinking about the confluence of social, spatial and ecological considerations. The most recent studios consider the role of nature in the city through the lenses of Biomimicry and Ecodistricts.

vds icon


I have used computer networks to expand the classroom and connect my students to external partners and resources since international Virtual Design Studios of mid-90’s. In 2006-10, I worked with interdisciplinary colleagues in the Inter/National Coalition for Electronic Portfolio Research (INCEPR) to understand how learning portfolios can be used to improve learning, teaching and assessment. Through these ePortfolios, students can reflect on how class assignments and co-curricular activities address learning goals. In blogging about their work-in-progress, they can share research efforts and develop online communication skills while developing an archive from which to develop more polished professional presentations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *