Composite Figures: Design Innovation Toward Resilient Housing Communities in Los Angeles
The graduate directed design research students in Geoffrey von Oeyen’s “Composite Figures” thesis studio are exploring the creative application of multidisciplinary Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) composite material innovation towards housing justice and community inclusion in Los Angeles during a time of radical social change in a post-pandemic environment. As Le Corbusier leveraged an industrial material technology toward a new architecture that would respond to contemporary aesthetic, technical, economic, and social forces shaping the vast demand for new housing in Europe more than a century ago, this architecture thesis studio proposes new architectural systems for the current housing crisis in Los Angeles utilizing FRP composites as the Dom-Ino proposed an architectural system for reinforced concrete. Like the Dom-Ino, each student has the creative opportunity to invent a system for housing architecture that operates from the scale of the construction assembly to the urban master plan, leveraging an extra-disciplinary material system without currently widespread architectural use. Further, students are asked to critically reflect on how contemporary architecture and urbanism may learn from the history of modern architecture. By reexamining the centrality of housing in a post-pandemic era in the first half the twentieth century, students may draw contemporary parallels between modernist goals for post-pandemic housing and our new work-from-home culture in the twenty-first. And in light of the 1960s civil rights movement at the end of the modern era half a century ago, set within the context of the Space Race that culminated in the moon landing, how might we best utilize our contemporary technological innovations toward social justice?
After analyzing housing precedents ranging from ancient civilizations to the work of the early Modernism to the Metabolists to New Urbanism to contemporary social housing, and pairing that research with multidisciplinary FRP precedents in naval, aerospace, and industrial engineering, students are designing prefabricated FRP composite housing modules that can be nested on trucks and assembled on site. The formal flexibility afforded by these high-strength, lightweight, low-maintenance, FRP systems will allow for varied configurations of both housing units and communal spaces. The figuration of common circulation and amenity spaces can reinterpret Giovanni Battista Nolli’s Nuova pianta di Roma to discover the spectrum of gray between the traditional black and white binary of public and private spaces in Los Angeles, and suggest how private, multiunit housing might enable public amenities that reinforce socially diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities. These composite figures, both literally and metaphorically, represent a future of housing in which individual parts come together to refigure and reform culturally, economically, and environmentally resilient living arrangements. An emphasis is placed on exploring new, innovative design possibilities utilizing composite construction systems that expand the site opportunities for housing and community development in Los Angeles, such as building above abandoned parking structures and Metro lines, reexamining church parking lots in South Los Angeles, creating floating housing developments in LA harbor, or addressing the urban-wildland interface with resilient architectural systems. The housing proposals that emerge from this directed design research will boldly reimagine and spatially refigure how residential architecture might better engage with communities by providing new public amenities that will address social justice issues of gentrification and inequity through models of shared ownership risk, improved affordability, improved qualities of architectural spaces, and lowered energy and material output to construct and maintain the buildings.