USC architectural forum spotlights composites versatility

In November 2014, CW attended “Performative Composites: Sailing Architecture,” hosted by the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture.


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In November 2014, CW attended “Performative Composites: Sailing Architecture,” hosted by the University of Southern California’s (USC, Los Angeles, CA, US) School of Architecture. Organized by USC School of Architecture professor Geoffrey von Oeyen, the event focused on the first exhibition of renowned architect Greg Lynn’s project to design and build the GF 42, a 12.8m carbon fiber foiling trimaran (a three-hulled sailboat that “flies” above the water on thin foils that protrude downward from its rudder and keel). That project served as a vehicle for introducing architects and students who attended the event to composites and how they can actualize digital designs and enable exploration of new paradigms, such as tension-based structures and designs that integrate structure and surface.

The event included an exhibition that featured parts and design documents from the GF 42 as well as design documents for the fiberglass-reinforced composite cladding fabricated by Kreysler & Associates (American Canyon, CA, US), which is currently being installed on a new expansion at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA, US; short.compositesworld.com/ArchComp).

One forum issue was the lack of composites education at architectural design schools. According to industry estimates, composites comprise less than 0.5% of the ~3 billion MT of materials used in buildings annually, but Michael Lepech at Stanford University has shown that composites often outperform wood, masonry and steel, achieving a lower carbon footprint because legacy materials require more energy to manufacture, transport, assemble and maintain. Despite these facts,  composites are rarely emphasized in studio classes required as part of design and architecture programs. To address that lack, California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo, with funding from Kreysler & Associates and the American Composites Manufacturers Assn.’s (ACMA, Arlington, VA, US) Architectural Div., is enabling students to become familiar with composites and explore ways to integrate them into the structural support for the building envelope.