AIA Student Design Competition Pushes the Boundaries of Architecture

One of the fastest growing markets for composites is architecture. From commercial and residential construction to artistic installations that showcase …

One of the fastest growing markets for composites is architecture. From commercial and residential construction to artistic installations that showcase complex shapes, the composites industry has been making inroads in an architecture market traditionally dominated by metals.

To help grow this burgeoning market for composites, in 2016, ACMA’s Architectural Division updated a set of guidelines and recommendations to address the application of composites in architecture and help architects better understand how, when, where and why to use composites. They also include the characteristics of FRP composites, fabrication processes, design consideration, tolerances, quality assurance, loading, delivery and installation.

However, while the updated guidelines are useful for experienced architects looking to incorporate more composites in their projects, ACMA is also focused on promoting exposure to composites at the university level, which could lead to more young architects beginning their careers already knowing the possibilities of FRP.

For the past three years, ACMA has hosted the COMPOSITES DESIGN CHALLENGE – a unique competition that challenges college architecture students to explore and invent new and sometimes radical architectural designs. These designs often push the limits of architecture beyond the traditional cladding and secondary components currently identified within the International Building Code. The winning designs are featured in the Composites Pavilion at the annual American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) show.

“Giving composite materials to students on an experimentation platform is genius,” says Simi Shenoy, a student in the Master of Architecture II program at UCLA, which won ACMA’s inaugural design challenge in 2016. “We were open to explore what we wanted. That’s how we come up with something new and exciting.”

Past winning designs have explored everything from moldless fabrication processes to solutions to poor daylighting. In 2018, Cornell University won first place for its “Tubular Knitting” design – a lightweight, multifunctional tube structure that can customized and easily assembled onsite. To create the design, students knit a fiberglass patterns, which were applied to a series of inflated balloons. After applying resin to the fiberglass, the balloons were deflated, leaving a cured structure with a design that would be much harder to create with traditional materials.

“In a time where ACMA is really stepping up its efforts to showcase the possibilities of composites to end users, I think this challenge is a perfect example of how to engage the next generation of building professionals,” said David Riebe of Windsor Fiberglass, which coordinates the competition. “I think this challenge will get more and more young architects interested in FRP.”

To learn more about how you can get involved in ACMA’s efforts to spread awareness of composites within the architecture community, click here.