USC Architecture Students Built This: The Carapace Pavilion

Written in partnership with Douglas E. Noble, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Architecture University of Southern California

The CARAPACE PAVILION has been installed at Joshua Tree National Park.

The Carapace Pavilion is a project of the students and faculty of the University of Southern California School of Architecture. The project was supported by a generous grant from the PCI Foundation and was hosted during fabrication with considerable enthusiasm and support at the Clark Pacific precast facility. The project involved nearly 500 people and took almost four years from the initial sketches to the final installation. Hundreds of architecture students participated hands-on in the design and fabrication of the Carapace Pavilion, and each received tours of the precast facility with descriptions of the types of precast and the productions processes. With considerable help from the professionals at Clark Pacific, students and faculty participated in each step of the design and fabrication of the Carapace, from building the mold to the final installation.



The project was installed on June 20, 2022. A small group of volunteers arrived the day before to prepare the site. There was no construction yard allowed at Joshua Tree National Park, and installation time was limited to just one day. The Carapace was transported by Reeve Trucking on the two-hour trip form the precast yard to the site in the early morning. The large self-propelled Maxim crane and support truck arrived after dawn and completed the crane set-up prior to the arrival of the Carapace. To avoid damaging any potential native cultures artifacts, the site directly beneath the Carapace was raised approximately 14 inches by adding local fill dirt. Using a clever curved screed tool and curved side-rails, the volunteers dug out a double curved trench, matching the geometry of the foundation panel. The digging occurred only in the new raised soil that had been added to the site, and thus there was no foundations or trenching in the original undisturbed site conditions. The Carapace was quickly lifted from the truck and set onto the site with the help of rangers from the National Park Service, and several team members from Clark Pacific.

A time-lapse one-minute video of the last step of installation is on YouTube:



Students prepared a software tool to help them design this unique geometry, which is made of ultra-high-performance-concrete (UHPC). The students knew they only had one mold to work with, but wanted to create five panels of three different types. The software tool enabled the students to design the roof, walls, and floor to all be cast in the same mold, even though the panels were quite different from each other.


Carapace Pavilion

Photo credit: The University of Southern California School of Architecture



The mold was created by students from high density foam using their 3D computer design files and a CNC machine in the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California. The mold was composed of 16 foam panels. Each panel was about three feet wide and eight feet long. To create the deep arch of the mold, a plywood egg crate form was installed on the construction deck at Clark Pacific precast plant. This allowed the students to use relatively thin foam planks for the CNC step. High density foam is relatively expensive, and the egg crate strategy created substantial savings on the cost of the mold, while also reducing waste. The 16 panels were installed on the curved plywood egg crate mold, and then epoxy and fiberglass layers provided the smooth surface finish and hid the seams of the  panels. A gelcoat was added as a final coating, and students spent many hours standing the epoxy and gelcoat between coats. The final mold resembled something like a surfboard in its’ finished surface appearance.

Carapace Pavilion mold

Photo credit: The University of Southern California School of Architecture



The project uses Lafarge Holcim Ductal ultra-high-performance-concrete (UHPC). UHPC is quite different from standard concrete in the way it flows as it is cast. This required the mold to have well-sealed sides and a backpan or top mold. The backpan resulted in the project being cast blind through a funnel on the top of the mold. It was not possible to see what was happening inside the mold as the concrete was being poured through the funnel. UHPC is an especially strong structural material. While typical concrete might range from 4,000 to 6,000psi in compressive strength, the UHPC in the Carapace Pavilion was engineered at 17,000psi and the 28-day test of sample cubes revealed that the actual strength of the concrete was more than 25,000psi. Each of the five cast panels weighs between 7,000 and 9,000 pounds. At the thinnest and most critical section, the wall panels and roof panels are only two inches thick. To obtain tensile strength, tiny steel fibers, each less than one inch long and much thinner than sewing needles, are included as the UHPC is mixed in the batch plant. Millions of these tiny steel fibers were integrated throughout the mix of each of the panels. These steel fibers eliminated the need for standard rebar.

Photo credit: The University of Southern California School of Architecture



The foundation panel was cast first. This was done for two reasons. First, the foundation panel is the smallest and uses the least concrete. Secondly, the foundation panel was intended to be nearly completely buried under the dirt of the site, and thus any flaws resulting from a learning curve would be hidden. The down-facing concrete in the mold obtained an extremely smooth surface finish matching the smoothness of the completed mold. The down-facing surface composed the interior of the Pavilion. The upward facing part of each panel had a slightly more textured finish resulting from tiny air bubbles that rose through the UHPC. UHPC has critical guidelines on the use of vibration to help settle concrete into a mold. UHPC has an excellent ability to fill the mold, and extended vibration risks having the steel fiber settle towards the bottom of the panel rather than remaining dispersed in the material. After the panels were cast and extracted from the mold, students applied a skim coat to the outer surface of each of the finished panels.



The foundation panel is connected to the two wall panels using Lenton cups and high-strength grout. The wall panels are connected to the roof panels using JVI vector connectors. The JVI vector connectors are installed in a staggered configuration along the touching seams of each panel. The vector connectors are stainless steel, and the vectors are welded to each other to assemble the five panels. The project was fully assembled in the precast yard at Clark Pacific. Off-site prefabrication was critical to the project due to the limitations on site access and the extreme distance and harsh climate conditions of the project site.

Carapace Pavilion

Photo credit: The University of Southern California School of Architecture



The design team knew about the dimensions and weight tolerances for trucking, and the project is designed to exactly fit standard wide-load dimensions. The completed project weighs about 40,000 pounds, and is 42 feet long at the roof. The Carapace tapers from the 42-foot roof to only 12 feet long at the foundation. The small foundation dimension reduces impact on the site and makes it easier to fit on the truck trailer. The extended roof cantilevers to provide an expansive shade area, but also contribute to a critical high center of gravity. The high center of gravity contributed to special trucking engineering to avoid the potential for rollover or lateral loading during turns or windy conditions.

Carapace Pavilion Installed

Photo credit: The University of Southern California School of Architecture



With leadership from rangers of the National Park service, eight aluminum earth anchors were driven through the foundation panel to anchor the project to the site. Each earth anchor was just under four feet long, and each required a custom 5”x5” by half-inch-thick steel washer. After the earth anchors were installed, the group of volunteers back filled the interior of the Carapace Pavilion with local dirt, creating a natural dirt floor for the pavilion.


Carapace Pavilion

Photo credit: The University of Southern California School of Architecture


Eventually, native vegetation is expected to grow on the east and west sides of the Carapace, helping to integrate the pavilion into the natural landscape The Carapace points due north and south, and each end of the campus provides a framed view of Joshua Tree National Park. The north opening frames a long distance view across the desert floor at Queen Valley. The south end frames a local view of the large rock formations and natural landscape adjacent to the site. The National Park Service selected a site for the campus pavilion that will eventually become a VIP campground area. VIP means “Volunteers In Parks,” and describes groups of people who camp at the park and help the National Park Service with maintenance and improvements. At some point it is hoped that the site will also include a residential education facility that will allow high school and elementary school students to come to the park and spend three days and two nights in an exploratory science curriculum to learn about the park. The Park Service is in the early stages of schematic design for this residential facility that might host 120 students and 10 or 15 faculty members. The site location is well inside the wilderness area of the National Park, and there are no services at the site. There is no water, no electrical power, no waste, and no cellphone service. The site project cannot be seen from the main road as it is hidden behind a hill of boulders, thus creating a quiet and private location for the VIP campground.



The students and faculty of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California are grateful to the PCI Foundation, PCI West, and the Precast / Prestressed Concrete Institute (PCI) for their enormous support. The project fabrications was hosted at Clark Pacific in Fontana, and received years of enthusiastic support and help from the gracious precast team at Clark Pacific. The Ductal ultra-high-performance-concrete (UHPC) was provided by Lafarge-Holcim. The engineers for the Carapace Pavilion were from Walter P. Moore. Crane services were provided by Maxim Crane. The project was transported to the site by Reeve Trucking. We are grateful for the support of JVI, INC. for the vector connectors and to Cresset Chemical Company for form release, The earth anchors were provided by American Earth Anchors, and the anchor washers were provided by Greg Swanson. Installation photography and video was by Mark Johnson, Art Brandt, and Joe Pingree. Nearly 500 people have worked on the project over the four years since the initial sketches were created in 2018.

Carapace Pavilion

Photo credit: The University of Southern California School of Architecture


American University of Cairo Students Develop Glow-In-the-Dark Concrete

Four undergraduate construction engineering students at the American University of Cairo (AUC) have created a  self-luminous concrete, which can absorb sunlight and emit light after dark. Students Fatma Elnefaly, Mayar Khairy, Zainab Mahmoud, and Menna Soliman had sustainability in the forefront as they began their thesis graduation project. Their goal was to find a way to save energy and bypass traditional energy consumption while improving the country’s infrastructure.

“Sustainability is a main theme in this project. This new concrete possesses better appearance and helps reduce the massive amount of energy used in lighting highways or providing illuminated street signals or signs needed for safe rides,” Mohamed Nagib AbouZeid said, professor of construction engineering at AUC, and supervisor of the students’ graduation project. Beyond the sustainability measures, AbouZeid added the glow-in-the-dark concrete would also enhance safety on long stretches of roads and highways in the country.


Photo credit: The American University in Cairo

Zainab Mahmoud, explained one of the many uses for the self-luminous concrete includes lighting roadways and bike paths and foregoing the use of electricity in those spaces, an opportunity that is in congruence with Egypt’s sustainability goals. “The utilization of this material in Egypt in such a context will reduce heavy reliance on electricity and accordingly be an active step towards fighting climate change and saving the environment, which is one of the main goals of COP 27 that Egypt will be hosting this year.”

“The idea of our research originated from wanting to make such an integral construction material like concrete more sustainable and environmentally friendly in both its creation and function,” Mahmoud said. The team understood the harsh environmental impacts associated with concrete and decided to look into new ways to make use of the common building material.

Fatma Elnefaly described the most challenging part of their development process was selecting, obtaining and testing locally used materials in order to ensure they were best meeting the goal of their project. “We needed to test the luminous effect of the selected materials and its effect on the mechanical properties of concrete,” she said.

“This research requires more experiments to provide reliable conclusions to plenty of crucial queries that remain to be answered,” Mayar Khairy said, in regards to the relatively novel research subject.

Earlier this year, the students showcased their work at the Transportation Research Board 101st Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Menna Soliman explained that attending the conference allowed them to engage with industry experts and receive valuable advice and recommendations on how to turn their project into a product that can be commercially available in the future.

Professor AbouZeid, who attended the conference with the students in D.C., is optimistic about the direction of this research project and the importance improving and enhancing the production process from the first stage. “Future steps include producing larger quantities as pilot trials to be evaluated on actual field conditions such as a small stretch of a highway,” he said.

Since the thesis project ‘s completion, the four students were awarded the ministry shield by Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar.


AUC Students Receive Ministry Shield for Innovative Work

Photo credit: The American University in Cairo

All images courtesy of The American University in Cairo

2021 Study Architecture Part VI

We are so excited to present another part of the 2021 Study Architecture Student Showcase. This year, we doubled the amount of submissions and will be able to feature over 40 students in this series. Stay tuned for two more posts coming soon. This week, we feature work from Savannah College of Art and Design, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, The University of Texas at Austin, and University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. These students’ work explores the intersection of architecture and memory, feminism, technology, and ecology. Check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.


Antechamber: The Last Nuclear Bomb Memorial by Haili Brown
Savannah College of Art and Design | Advisor: Huy Ngo

In 1945, the United States detonated the world’s first nuclear weapon. It was considered a success, a marvel, and an advancement. It was said to be for the betterment of society. The more they tested, the more they scarred the earth, and the more they scarred the community. The wind blew the scars east. Then, the United States bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The scars stretched further. One hundred thousand people now gone, the whole world watching, and no one moved an inch.

The site that I selected for this memorial was Tippipah Point, Nevada, which falls in Area 16 of the Nevada National Security Site. It is a mountainous peak that rests atop six underground detonations that originally belonged to the Shoshone People but was stolen under the guise that the land would be used for good. This, of course, was a lie. It became a site of mass destruction where military crews would be subjected to nuclear exposure only one mile from ground zero. Many of these troops would report feelings of overwhelming uncertainty and a realization of the malicious power of the bombs. Nevertheless, they remained complicit.

I have designed an experience that will implore the users to reflect on their responsibility, both in life and in architecture, by emphasizing their decisions as they make their way to the finale. This will result in a greater awareness of their actions and the effect they have on themselves and those around them. This is a start toward a more empathetic and socially proactive future. The three ways I planned on doing this were transience, choice, and finality. Transience would urge quick decision-making due to a one-hour time limit on the site, the choice would give the users control over their outcome, and finality would exemplify the permanence of our decisions by allowing users to only enter and exit once.

In the creation of my form, I took an approach of free will; we all start off at different points and we all end at different points based on the reality that we create. This translated into a free-flowing and unpredictable mass, resulting in a series of corridors that would pass through, above, and below each other. All parking plateaus do not lead to all final points, which begin this journey of free will upon entry to the site. In areas where the corridors intersect, users are given a chance to either pull a lever to open one door and close another, or to proceed through the one already open. This makes their decisions deliberate and pointed.

At the end of the corridors rest finale points. There are twelve possible finales that the users may experience. Only some of them have a view of the memorial sculpture below. The outer perimeter houses 3-foot-wide openings that offer the users a personal experience when choosing which view they want to take in, while the inner ring remains open to forge a more collective experience. The decision of which one to ruminate within is left up to the user.


On Beauty and Power: A Female “Cyborg-ienne” Phenomenon by Cayce J. Anthony, M.Arch ‘21
University of Tennessee at Knoxville | Advisors: Mark Stanley, Jeremy Magner, Jennifer Akerman
Awarded the 2021 Faculty Thesis Award

Power camouflages itself with beauty and grafts itself into our societies through covert cultural and political operations that influence individual perceptions and behaviors—what we pay attention to, follow, purchase, believe—until we, humankind, adapt, conform, or become socially “othered.” 

Few spatial realities embody the tension between these immaterialities as the female form.

Power leverages beauty to reinforce the existing social strata—one that relies on a western-American beauty tradition that is aggressively, and often maliciously, thin, white, and youthful.  

This project fabricates environments, objects, and ultimately subjects that complicate and push back into the established social strata and beget a more autonomous, hybridized, “cyborg-ienne” female phenomenon, to speculate how beauty and power might be reprogrammed in future social mutations and to question our contemporary moment.

Follow Cayce on Instagram: @cayce.anthony


Foreign + Familiar by Bella Chou, Coleman Brink, and William Hachtman
The University of Texas at Austin | Advisor: Kory Bieg
2020-21 Design Excellence Award Winner: (Internal UTSOA award)
Pending upcoming feature in Tribeza, a local magazine in Austin

Technology is ubiquitous. Our relationship with electronics, both hidden and overt, has become integral to our everyday lives and has reformed how we interact with and perceive the world around us. In the perpetual pursuit of utopia, futuristic machines constantly propose a new and improved way of living. Some prospective technologies speculated to become part of our contemporary lives include flying cars, nanobots, and 3-D printed food. While many of these proposals seem to be more applicable to temporally distant societies, our rapidly changing environment and needs suggest these future technologies could be implemented in the near, rather than distant, future. Despite the vision of a seamless integration of these technologies, a question of the spatial requirements to house these technologies arises.

Technology is a tool to change how we live, but contrary to our reliance on it to complete even the most mundane of tasks, technology is often tucked away in the periphery of our buildings and minds. Our project explores ideas of human viewership and interaction with the digital. Set in a near, speculative future, we wanted to confront our complacency of existence—what are the implications of space-making with a non-human centered focus? Architecture as a discipline has become constrained. In our constantly changing world, architecture is stable. Our explorations play with destabilizing the status quo. Programmatically, our project is a spectrum of human occupation, with technology taking precedence while humans become the periphery. Our projects are highly speculative, but rooted in our observations of human interactions with technology. This is just one of many potential futures.

This studio was broken into two parts. The first being entirely group-focused where the overall formal and site developments were made. In accordance with the studio’s vision, all this was done using Grasshopper, machine learning, and scripting. Therefore, all the exterior and formal elements seen were developed using this process.

The second half of the course was focused on individual projects and developments within the larger context and narrative of the site. For this, each group member focused on an object scale applying to the overarching narrative, and then designed this object to their selected building’s program. These programs were applied to various buildings across the site ranging in size and complexity.

All portions of the projects were targeted and designed for a virtual reality experience, as required by the studio. With that in mind, each individual project was designed with immense detail and immersion, allowing for a user to be consumed by their future world. Every interior and render is meant to be experienced with this perspective. 

Generating a project with this methodology required a strong sense of vision and communication. Our narrative was the centerpiece in developing a cohesive project, while allowing each team member to explore a “future” technology that they thought would influence architecture and the project statement. This is the future that we envision to be familiar, but greatly foreign. 

Follow them on Instagram: @colemanbrink, @ciaobellabellachou, @will_hachtman


Water! Please: Remember, Reveal, Reconnect by Maria Pozo & Adele Isyanamanova
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | Advisor: Professor Bartumeus
First Place (tie) for Graduate Studio Award

Sant Feliu de Llobregat, an industrial and agrarian city in Catalonia, Spain, is historically familiar with the destructive and dangerous consequences of seasonal flooding, but it also experiences a lack of water most of the year. Smart water management is necessary for the region, but the municipality cannot afford expensive infrastructure that would solve the problem quickly. How do we manage water with as little intervention as possible? How do we activate water memory and connect people to the essence of the place? How do we use water to promote biodiversity and ensure sustained ecosystem health? 

This design proposal achieves three interconnected objectives: remembering the industrial and ecological history of Sant Feliu de Llobregat, revealing the previously hidden life of water in the city and beyond, and reconnecting human and non-human ecosystems through water.


BOUAZIZI OPPORTUNITY CENTER: A Global Icon and a Local Resource by Bryan Samuel & Francisco Hernandez, M.Arch ‘21
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | Advisor: Professor Murray
First Place (tie) for Graduate Studio Award

In recent years, a relatively small country has had an outsized influence on the Arab world due to the promulgation of protests via social media. From the self-immolation of a lowly street cart vendor to the dethroning of decades-old dictatorial regimes, the internet has become synonymous with one word in Tunisia: revolution.

Protests have continued into 2021. While the Arab Spring addressed some issues of democracy and freedom of expression, economic issues continue to affect Tunisian quality of life. The Bouazizi Opportunity Center is a community internet center in Tunis, Tunisia, but it is also much more than that. It provides studios and workshops for personal skill development as well as a physical and digital marketplace to provide a direct avenue toward economic independence. The Bouazizi Opportunity Center is a resource to the local community and a global symbol for hope and unity.



For more student projects, check out Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V



2021 Study Architecture Student Showcase - Part V

Welcome back to Part V of the 2021 Study Architecture Student Showcase. This week, we feature students from across the United States highlighting work in infrastructure, land resources, politics, and culture. Each project highlights a unique relationship between the built environment and the context within which the project is located. For more projects, please explore Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Terra Incognita: Post-traumatic Infrastructural Opportunism by Zachary Orig, B.Arch ‘21
University of Tennessee at Knoxville | Advisor: Jennifer Akerman
Awarded the Distinguished Design Award, Tau Sigma Delta Bronze Medal, ARCC Student King Medal, Faculty Award of Excellence, EUReCA – Third Place in Architecture
Explore the full project here

Mason White and Lola Sheppard of Lateral Office write that “infrastructures are in fact ecologies, or natural systems artificially supplemented.” Taking a narrative approach in exploration of terra incognita, or“land unknown,” this project investigates the decline of southern California’s traumatic Belridge oil-producing region through rediscovering invisible infrastructural flows and systems. The project creates speculative urban futures with the LOCUS (Large Operative Clean Up Systems) Corporation that exists in a world where coastal Los Angeles is predicted to no longer be habitable due to rising sea levels. LOCUS machines, cities, and infrastructures are created and celebrate new apparatuses for reclaiming the hinterlands from oil extraction, thus creating the new model for the touristic company town: one that celebrates the conviviality of alternative energy futures. 

This thesis questions the role of current energy territorialization in Kern County and provokes the twenty-first-century energy transition and utopian playground of infrastructural ecology. The research addresses architecture’s relationship to petroleum and natural gas extraction in Kern County and its dynamic relationship with territory and urbanism through a series of provoking cartographic explorations, urban narratives, and computational speculations for a post-carbon future.

By questioning the role of systems thinking in large-scale problems such as climate change, questions of design autonomy are raised in a world where we might often neglect to study the systems, the “hidden substrate,” that is right under it. This thesis leverages systems thinking and analysis to posit landscapes of energy as ones that are inherently connected to the growth and development of twenty-first-century cities, while also questioning the difference between how energy is currently utilized versus how energy ought to be utilized.

Follow Zach on Instagram: @zachorig @j_akerman

The Portal – Redefining the Water Transit of the City by Stitching the Land to the Water by Sanjana Sanjay Vadhavkar
Savannah College of Art and Design | Advisor: Hsu-Jen Huang
See more on this project here

This project intends to observe the fall of water-based transit in Mumbai as a result of infrastructure issues and propose a solution. Designing a water transit hub to revitalize such an important industry for Mumbai will relieve the strain on other modes of transportation, which are already overburdened due to the massive influx of people. The project aims to rejuvenate the city’s water-based sector, while also providing Mumbai with a new mode of transportation. This proposal aims to create a terminal that will meet the city’s growing population demands, while also giving the region a sense of identity. It will be an epitome and a means for the city’s water transport.

The design challenge for the project was to understand the problems the city of Mumbai faces and to create design solutions that could cater to challenges like increasing population and congestion while conserving and preserving the lost identity of a port city. It was essential to highlight the significance of water for Mumbai and give an identity to the edge conditions of Mumbai. The challenge was to create a master plan which segregated the traffic, acted as an urban wharf, and became a beautiful transit experience. The goal was also to preserve the biodiversity around the site by creating sensitive design solutions that cater to both development and conservation. The master plan also aimed to uplift the social interactions at the waterfront, stimulate the economy through tourism, and create more jobs. If the city starts developing using the methodologies proposed in this thesis, Mumbai will soon be known again as a ‘port-city.’

A Pantone Pixelscape: Negotiating Thresholds Through Gradients by Tasmia Kamal and Cesar Gomez, M.Arch ‘21
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign | Advisor: Professor Bartumeaus
First Place (tie) for Graduate Studio Award + Third Place for the Chicago Prize 

The main objective of this project is to study, redefine, and restore the relationship between two natural environments in Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Spain—the Collserola Natural Park and the Llobregat River—following the natural Mediterranean dry stream of La Salut by creating thresholds through gradients in the form of pixels.  

The Llobregat River covers most of the province of Barcelona. There are multiple natural streams, including La Salut, which are unfortunately being disrupted and canalized due to dense urban fabrics and the discontinuity of natural systems.  

The main goal was to redefine this relationship through the La Salut stream, which connects the two environments, through better articulation of the blue and green infrastructure to a more resilient territory through three main aspects: biodiversity, connectivity, and productivity. 

Verdant Versatility by Caitlin Crozier and Crystal Torres
The University of Texas at Austin | Advisor: Martin Haettasch
2020-21 Design Excellence Award Winner: 

Verdant Versatility focuses on using vegetation and meditative spaces as the major driver in its design development, where the integration of vertical courtyards is used as a systematic catalyst for program designation. 

Upon analysis of the site, the notable presence of vegetation on an urban scale led to our conjecture that the urban fabric was inviting more intentionally designed green spaces. By mapping the locations of trees on our immediate site, as well as their relationships to components of the urban fabric, a network of points was developed, which was then projected and developed into a 3-D form. 

Initially, our concept included a grand scheme to create two vertical towers diagonally across 8th street. Having researched the plans for the future of Waller Creek, a heavy influence in our initial design concept was the idea of “the Refuge,” a plan to remove the police headquarters building and garage and place a park between 7th and 9th street. This divided parkland led to the need for a stronger connection between the intersection of Red River and 8th Street. 

Four quadrants were created utilizing the aforementioned network of points as guidelines. The plinths were intended to be conduits of connection between the two sides of the street and designed to house the public occupancies. The vertical towers were intended as private occupancy meant to house the aspiring artists. 

The spaces that would inhabit the vertical portion of the tower were developed and considered according to the programmatic functions of living quarters, studio space, and connected courtyard space: Live, Work, and Grow.

Follow these students on Instagram — @caitlinnicholecrozier and @crystaltorres2112

Instruments of Culture: The Layered Representations of the Alhambra by Paul Germaine McCoy, M.Arch ‘21
University of Pennsylvania | Advisor: Andrew Saunders
Awarded the Arthur Spayd Brooke Memorial Prize: Gold Medal
Recipient of the Van Alen Travel Fellowship

The Alhambra of Granada is an architectural artifact that embodies the turbulent history of the Iberian Peninsula. It is a multi-cultural site that survives the friction between its Islamic origin and Christian conquest and marks a critical transfer of power between eastern and western cultures. This thesis aims to re-evaluate the relationship between the site of the Alhambra and the city of Granada through a survey of the Nasrid Kingdom’s legacies to the region—the multifarious ornament embedded in the walls of the Alhambra and the cistern infrastructure embedded in the ground of Granada. 

Both ornament and water are instruments of culture with the potential of a reciprocal relationship—where both are equally essential—despite being positioned at odds by their western definitions: 

Water is an essential necessity across all lifeforms.
Ornament is frivolous, purely “decorative.” 

The static definition for the latter comes from the Enlightenment, where it was validated by categorization and ethnic origin rather than embraced for its non-conforming symbolic geometry. This led to the misconception that ornamentation was purely decoration; unnecessary to the conception of architectural space. Water, across time and cultures, has been regarded as a symbolic element of space contained within different geometries at different scales for architectural space. Islamic culture’s value for each instrument as equally representational and essential to the making of architecture will enable a new perspective for the use of architectural surveying and ornamentation to make new architectural expressions. The surveys are collected by capturing the surfaces of ornament fragments and the voids of water hidden underground. Both layers of representation resurrect the withdrawn histories and meanings contained over time. The geometry collected from this process is then re-arranged through a three-dimensional reading of the Seventeen Wallpaper Groups—the mathematical organization through which all of the ornamentation is brought to order—to conceptualize the design project. 

The thesis proposes an inhabitable water infrastructure underneath the Alhambra between the Spanish Monarchy’s legacy to the Alhambra—the Carlos V Palace and the Court of the Cisterns—dedicated to a processional ritual that enables visitors to experience Granada’s western present and eastern past. The ornamented aqueduct becomes a spatial inversion of the Nasrid Palace’s courtyards, in which water and ornament’s reciprocal relationship enables the interior facades to transmute the architectural container. The restorative ritual created underground by this fluid duet not only transcends the individual roles of ornament and water, but contains new spatial and cultural consequences for the visitor, the site, and the city as their histories collapse into one unfolding sequence of compressing and dialating spaces. The representations of the Alhambra’s past reclaim their essential roles in forming the culture of Granada and the role of ornament in architecture.

Follow Paul his advisor Andrew Saunders on Instagram: @paulgermaine @instrumentsofculture @andrewasaunders



Check back next week for Part VI of the 2021 Study Architecture Student Showcase.


USC Students Raise Awareness About Homelessness

From trash to treasure, University of Southern California (USC) students Jayson Champlain and Joseph Chang are transforming forgotten materials into tiny portable houses that could serve as temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles.

According to LA Times, “Jeremy Carman was driving around Boyle Heights recently when he spotted a rolled-up garage door on the side of the road.

‘That’s it,’ the 25-year-old thought. The garage door would make the perfect roof for the 8-foot-tall house that he and four other USC architecture students were building over the weekend to draw attention to the lack of permanent supportive housing for the homeless in Los Angeles — and to raise money for a solution.”

The students gathered materials from construction trash bins, street corners and alleys in LA then came together to build a small white house with a bright orange door, “complete with a cupola, eaves, and wheels for mobility.”

The students built the house at the Dwell on Design Conference, held at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

To learn more, read the original post on LA Times entitled “Trash to Treasure: USC Architect Students Build Tiny Portable House to Raise Awareness About Homelessness.” 

Visit USC’s Study Architecture Profile page to learn more about their architecture program!

NYIT Grad, Daniel Horn, The Extreme-Weather Architect

(via QZ)

Daniel Horn, a fresh New York architecture graduate, has launched a global competition around a tricky design question—what is the most aesthetic way to raise the elevation of an entire neighborhood block by eight to 10 feet?

Call it extreme weather architecture. Horn, a 23-year-old graduate of the New York Institute of Technology (more on him below), is part of a boom in design competitions and urban reconstruction initiatives built around climate change. A rash of storms, drought and fires in recent years has ignited this contemplation of a new school of design cutting across cities and shorelines, homes and commercial buildings.

The emerging class of architecture suggests the onset of a global design-and-construction industry worth tens of billions of dollars in the coming years. Places such as the Netherlands have had to build around environmental- and weather-related challenges for years. But to the degree that extreme-weather architecture and construction moves to the mainstream, it would become one of the biggest infrastructure businesses on the planet, straddling US, Europe, Asia and Latin America. The cost of one recent set of recommendations alone, by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, responding to the ravages of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, is estimated at $20 billion. Studies of the spending to come around the world range well into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Already, there are signs of a big trend. In addition to Bloomberg’s initiative, Shaun Donovan, the US secretary of housing and urban development, on June 20 unveiled a competition called Rebuild By Design, whose winning concept will be built using public and private funds. On June 13, the American Institute of Architects and three other groups announced the Designing Recovery competition, which seeks new housing designs for storm-prone areas.

Horn’s contest is called the 3C Competition (for Comprehensive Coastal Communities). At college, Horn had a mind to carve out a career in environmentally minded architecture—as his undergraduate thesis, Horn did a redesign of Newtown Creek, an industrial hub between Brooklyn and Queens near the East River.

But when Hurricane Sandy struck, the industrial businesses lining the creek were hit hard by flooding, and Horn re-conceived his thesis. Now he incorporated the risk of massive flooding. In order to absorb a Category 3 storm surge (the level that Sandy reached at its peak), Horn equipped the building around which his thesis centered with walls resembling a canal lock. Floodwaters entering the lock would be channeled into adjacent wetlands.

Horn thinks that the idea would scale up. There could be “an entire connected system of these ‘bulkhead buildings,’ as I call them, working together as a public space system and a storm water filter system which would also alleviate the area in a strong storm surge,” Horn told Quartz.

As it happened, Mayor Bloomberg’s group looked at Newtown as well in his $20 billion plan for redesigning the city.

Bloomberg’s idea (Office of the New York Mayor)

Horn’s Newtown model (Courtesy of Daniel M. Horn)

Horn and a few college classmates also wondered why the New York area was generally unprepared for such weather. Extreme architecture clearly needed to move beyond conceptualized theses to a fundamental reshaping of the construction along the region’s shorelines.

But how? A single homeowner could elevate his own house on a high foundation, but that would do nothing to save the neighborhood, not to mention that it would look strange next to everything else around it. Horn’s group decided that a holistic approach was needed. That led to the competition.

The 3C Competition invites architects to select any community along the US northeast coast, and suggest a design for elevated homes in the context of the surrounding landscape and topography. The top three winners are to be announced in New York in October.

More than 210 teams from about 30 countries have entered so far, says Horn.

The field is young—Horn as yet has not found registered architects specializing in extreme weather work, but it is the talk of fresh graduates and architecture students. And it is they who will lead the way.

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