How to destroy Architecture...and have some bright new ideas (Part 2)

How to destroy Architecture…and have some bright new ideas (Part 2)

(If you haven’t read Part 1, posted last week, we strongly encourage you to read that first.)

The next single-family solutions was Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine, created by the team of Nilgoon Fatehi and Mariana Varela (half of the team that designed Hexatent, featured in Part 1 of this post.)  They did extensive study of the physics of sailing, and how it related to architectural issues such as the aerodynamics of wind forces. They studied the human body: height, arms-length, etc., to determine the space needed for living and moving around. The researched housing worldwide, the range of house-sizes in different countries, etc.

Their aim was towards net zero design: rain collection for water supply, solar collection for energy, wind for ventilation.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of their single-family design was the exterior structural panel. It is a 2’x3’ rectangle, carbon fiber fabric over a 2-inch-thick expanded polystyrene core. The module is small enough to allow curved walls and roofs to be built, yet large enough to erect the entire structure relatively quickly.

Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine full-size Carbon Fiber  panel mockup

Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine – full size carbon fiber panel mockup – 2′ x 3′.

The panels come in five flavors, each with a slightly different oval aperture in the center of the panel, each with a different function. One collects rain, one has photovoltaic solar collection, one is for wind control, one for daylighting, and one for views. (They even mocked up one full-size panel.) The panels are skinned with carbon fiber and have their appropriate hardware installed in the factory. They are then shipped to the house site, where they’re erected and skinned in place a second time, forming a monocoque structure. It is elevated off the ground on caissons. Grids defining interior walls parallel the curves of the exterior. Versions in Studio, 1-, 2- and 3- bedroom sizes were posited, the larger ones using two levels.

The multi-family version simply expanded the joining of panels to a multi-level, whale-like assembly covered in multi-functional oval eyes.

Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine Muti-family design

Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine Muti-family design

Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine Multi-family design.


Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine Muti-family design 3-D prints

Autarkes: Self Sufficient Machine Multi-family design 3-D prints


The team of Eduardo Oliveira and Jiaqi Che presented an emergency shelter called Squeeze-Shelter. Its design was inspired on the game of Cat’s Cradle, where you use your hands as frames to stretch and space a multi-looped string, forming a complex geometric string-shape between the two frames. Squeeze Shelter has three structural frames. The shelter’s roof, walls and floor are double layer-fabric that is stretched between the frames to form the shelter. It is shipped as a flat package, with all the fabric accordioned between the frames. On site, it is pulled open. The wall and floors have integrated fabric tables and beds, which are also pulled taut when the shelter is stretched open. The entire assembly is elevated off the ground by a composite foundation inspired by the sailboat’s daggerboards.

Squeeze Shelter design Squeeze Shelter design

It includes several strategies to adapt to varied local environments. The end frames are shaped rather like a Quonset hut, or a D laying on its back, but the center frame has a large indentation on one side of the roofline. When the fabric walls are stretched, this dent in the roof can channel rain-water into a collector. For dry climates, they suggest that the double-layer walls could be composed of hydrophobic and hydrophillic fabrics and used to condense water vapor into liquid water. The fabrics can be selected in dark colors for cold environments, or light for hot environments. Multiple units can even be joined together to conserve heat. The shelter can also block wind, or channel it for ventilation.

Squeeze Shelter design

Hermit House -single family designSqueeze Shelter design

Oliviera and Che carried some of these ideas forward into their single-family unit, Hermit House. In an echo of their double-layer fabric shelter, the hard-shell house is a structure made of a single surface that is wrapped around from inside to outside to form two layers. The void created between the layers of the wrapped surface provides space for services. The shell roof is designed to catch rain, too. They also retained the boat-like integrated furniture concept, cast into the shell in carbon fiber with a honeycomb core.

Hermit House -single family Interior elevations   Hermit House -single family 3-D print showing cut-away cross-section

Hermit House 3-D print, cutaway of elevation showing the single-surface skin folded in to create a double-layer wall.

Hermit House -single family 3-D prints

Hermit House – single family design 3-D prints

Their multi-family version was a stacking and agglomeration of single-family units.  It bears a certain sense of the colony animal, whcih underscores the rather organic sensibility of the single family design.

Hermit House multi-family concept

Hermit House 3-D Prints of  multi-family.

They also explored another multi-family concept that bore only slight visual resemblance to the single-family concept. Here, the units are stacked into a tower with a six-pointed-star-shaped cross section. The points of the star spiral around as the tower rises, creating turbine-like bumps and voids that are used to catch and channel wind, ventilate the interior, and absorb or shed solar heat. The designers did extensive studies of the heat-distribution patterns, which they presented in a series of color-coded 3-D prints that popped everyone’s eyes.

Hermit House  3-D prints - Single familyand Multi-family tower heat studies

Hermit House 3-D Prints of heat distribution studies


The final group, Jiadong Chen, Bahareh Hosseini, and Luka Wili, studied the shape of living and boiled it down to an outline that looks like Texas standing on its head.

One Design Emergency Shelter One Design Emergency Shelter

Personal space studies led to the shape of One Design’s Emergency Shelter

Their shelter, OneDesign, took many cues from sailboats, especially rigging technology. For example, they were inspired by composite sail design, where each layer of the sail is engineered to answer a specific performance need. This became a double-layer fabric skin that runs on tracks when the shelter is erected.

The mast has been wrapped around to form a structural ring-frame – two of them, ergonomically shaped to accommodate the three major positions of human living: standing full height at the center, seated to one side, laying down on the other side. Initially, the fabric wall/floor/roof is stored in the hollow space inside the mast/ring-frame, much like a furled sail. Flat, hard panels are also stored, upright, in the “standing” section of the frame. When the two ring-frames are pulled apart, the fabric walls extend. The flat panels are laid into floor and table spaces to provide rigidity.

One Design Emergency Shelter One Design Emergency Shelter

The sailboat’s dagger-boards inspired the foundation-stakes that keep the entire structure off the ground.  The design include photovoltaic solar collection on one side of the exterior, designed to be pointed south when the shelter is erected. Multiple shelters can be joined end-to-end, too.

Taking these ideas forward to a single-family home, the same team members expanded their ‘Texas’ shape into the outline of an entire house. The house is the hull that has been wrapped around from the outside, over the top and into the inside. The main frame of the house is the central wall and floor structure. The tall standing-space of the soft shelter enlarges into a two-story atrium with skylights, bringing light into the lower floor.

OneDes-IMG_7103_USC-CR2-web Onedes-IMG_7108_USC-CR2-web

But most significantly, just as the hull of the boat supports it buoyantly in the water, the One Design house is also suspended… from four trees. The house hangs from its hull-like bottom, creating an interior environment that is connected to conditions of the surrounding environment to an unusual degree. (It also creates the car-parking space underneath.)


The furniture, too, takes its cues from the shelter concept, moving away from the “block system” and becoming purely surfaces.

Their multi-family design was inspired in part by the landmark Village Green development in Culver City, CA (about 15 minutes’ drive from the USC campus).   Echoing the park-like landscape of Village Green, they envisioned planting a grove of trees, waiting 10 years, and then populating it with suspended houses. (They even researched a fast-growing species of pine from the Canary Islands that becomes sufficiently mature in 10 years, and needs about the same amount of water as Los Angeles’ average yearly rainfall.) Not only do the trees support the houses, but the houses support the trees: gray water from the houses is used to irrigate the trees.


3-D Prints for On Design show the unit, but they are not yet suspended from the trees.  (Probably because the mock-up trees could not support them easily, where real trees could.)

Of course, this summary does not include all of the aspects and the thinking that went into projects, only the highlights.  At the end of the presentation of these projects, I think the jurors all took a deep breath. We had seen what it’s possible to think your way into if you can break free of your old programming, and it was, at least a little, breathtaking.

Of course, during the course of the presentations, the jurors questioned the students’ assumptions and their solutions, and poked many holes in these bright ideas…. as they were supposed to do in their role as jurors. The appreciation of the student’s achievements is integrally linked to challenging them to take the next steps.

It was easy to poke holes, too. For example, in the last multifamily project: if the trees only need the amount of water that normally falls as rain in LA, and the houses are supposed to water them with gray water, won’t the trees be violently over-watered? Clearly, the projects represented a lot of work in a short period of time, and ideas so complex and multi-layered could not reasonably be fully explored.

But for anyone who is not a juror, poking holes in these ideas is far beside the point. These projects are full new thinking that grew out of the traditional architectural discipline without being stunted by it. They are distinctly 21st Century works, designed holistically, and bristling with multi-tasking energy. They accept new technology as a natural. They suggest new ways to deal with needs as old as our genes, yet steer us back towards a harmony with our planet that we lost some time ago.