Weaponized Armor

In collaboration with Sayjel Patel and the Ortiz Material Science Laboratory, in a workshop instructed by Katia Zoltovsky

Exhibited at ACADIA: Adaptive Architecture


The US Department of Defense sought out the Ortiz Laboratory and the MIT School of Architecture to conceptualize innovative armor and weapons using the lab’s research in biological materials and multi-material 3D printing. Sayjel Patel and I used the research of these groups to create a parametric, bio-inspired piece of adaptive weaponized armor fitted to the human body—informed by the ancient armored fish, Polypterus senegalus. Prototyping makes use of homogenized multi-material 3D printing with the Objet Connex printer.

03 - Polypotoreus Senegalus
 Fish Diagrams-01

Bio-inspired design is the translation of a biological system to a design parameters in a negotiation between science and design methodologies (Zolotovsky 2012). This principle recognizes that nature combines geometry-based and material-based design strategies to achieve maximum performance (Ortiz and Boyce 2008). The armored scales of the P. senegalus fish were selected for investigation due to their unique geometric attributes, which allow for a great range of flexibility while still providing structure and bracing under load. It achieves this through its rhomboidal scales that interlock into structural rings through the interface of peg-and-socket joints.

The geometry and functionality of these scales and overall assessments of the entire armored scale assembly have been described in previous studies (Pearson 1981; Brainerd 1994; Gemballa and Bartsch 2002; Bruet et al. 2008; Wang et al. 2009; Araya 2011; Reichert 2011; Song 2011).

05 - HAND 02 - Scale Prototypes

The Ortiz Group at MIT studies the P.senegalus toward the development of articulated body armor for soldiers (Zolotovsky 2012). In keeping with this research goal, we sought original applications within the realm of combat.

The human wrist was selected as an area of focus as it would take full advantage of the range of motion provided by the system while being small enough to quickly prototype and iterate at full-scale.

As of 2002, the military released a new emphasis on hand-to-hand combat training. This training is seen as important during peacekeeping or other military operations that restrict the use of deadly weapons. A central notion with the incorporation of weapons into hand combat is the connectivity between the other techniques and training of unarmed fighting (United States Army 2012). As such, we designed this armor to integrate seamlessly with existing chokeholds while shifting automatically into a protective wrist brace—without conscious attention or special movements required by the user. We see this as a self-adaptive architecture for the soldier’s body.


Wrist DiagramT-Socket Drawings

04 - Scale Prototype

Many combat moves are directed at injuring the wrist of an opponent. By taking advantage of the locking sockets between the scales of P. senegalus, we can dictate a specific range of motion for the wrist, beyond which the scales will lock together and brace the wrist against injury (figures 5, 6).

Abstracting and modifying the P. senegalus scale geometry creates an original joint design (figure 4, 5). This new joint maintains bio-inspiration but takes into consideration the material properties of the 3D printed polymer and allows the component to distribute greater loads without risking dislocation. Flexion or extension of the wrist produces bracing along the vulnerable motions of the joint while exposing spiked mechanisms (derived from exaggerating the geometry of the rhomboidal P. senegalus scales) effective for intensifying choke-holds currently taught in military training.

In connecting scales along the opposite axis (where structural bracing is not needed) a rigid to flexible material gradation, similar to that seen in P. senegalus, is used between scales (figure 9). This allows the brace to stretch and adapt to movements in the body where needed.


Each design decision was directly informed by the geometry of the armored scale system of P. senegalus. Overall, three variables were altered to allow for the system’s new function on the human body: reorientation and relocation of the functional zoning pattern, modification of the interlocking joints, and an exaggeration of functional scale geometry for.



Araya, S., 2011. Per formative Architecture. PhD Dissertation, School of Architecture and Planning,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Brainerd, E.L., 1994. Mechanical design of polypterid fish integument for energy storage during recoil aspiration. Journal of Zoology 232, no. 1: 7-10.

Bret, B.J.F., Song, J., Boyce, M.C., and Ortiz, C., 2008. Material design principles of ancient fish armor. Natural Materials 7, no. 9: 748-756.

Gemballa, S. and Bartsch, P., 2002. Architecture of the integument in lower teleostomes: functional morphology and evolutionary implications. Journal of Morphology 253, no. 3: 290-309

Ortiz, C. and Boyce, M.C., 2008. Materials Science: Bio Inspired Structural Materials. Science 319, no. 5866 (February 22): 1053-1054.

Pearson, D.M., 1981. Functional aspects of the integument in polypterid fishes. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 72, no. 1: 93-106.

Reichert, S., 2010. Reverse Engineering Nature: Design Principles for Flexible Protection Inspired by Ancient Fish Armor of Polypteridae, SMarchS thesis in Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Song, J., 2011. Multiscale Materials Design of Natural Exoskeletons: Fish Armor, PhD thesis in Department of Material Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

United States Army, 2002. Field Manual No. 3-25.150: Combatives. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Wang, L.F., Song, J.H., Ortiz, C., Boyce, M.C., 2009. Anisotropic design of a multilayered biological exoskeleton. Journal of Materials Research 24, 3477-3494.

Zolotovsky, K., 2012. Bio-Constructs: Methods for Bio-Inspired and Bio-Fabricated Design, SMarchS thesis in Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.