Float Lab by Buoyant Ecologies; photo: Maggie Beasley.

Exhibition Designing Material Innovation opens on CCA's back lot

Outdoor show features five original site-specific architecture structure and pavilions using material and form in ways that have rarely been seen before.

San Francisco, CA—September 28, 2017—An outdoor exhibition featuring five original and site-specific architecture structures and pavilions opened in the sprawling Back Lot of the California College of the Arts (CCA). Each work uses material and form in ways that have rarely been seen before, from concrete that has been transformed into thin, screen-like walls to a 2000-pound sculpture that can be moved with ease. The result of extensive research and collaboration between architects and partners—including industry leaders such as CEMEX as well as engineers, students, chemists, biologists, farmers, and more—Designing Material Innovation is co-presented by CCA and the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (Taubman College). It is curated by Jonathan Massey, current dean of the Taubman College and recent dean of architecture at CCA, and designed by CCA Assistant Professor of Architecture Clark Thenhaus.

Designing Material Innovation shows how designers and industry leaders partner to achieve great things, whether that is making concrete structures light and delicate, promoting ecological diversity, or repurposing waste,” said curator Jonathan Massey, dean of the Taubman College and former dean of architecture at CCA. “The prototypes displayed on the Back Lot show how students and faculty at CCA and Michigan are among the field leaders breaking new ground at the intersection of formal and material research.”

“This exhibition is at the very heart of our mission here at CCA to empower our students to change the world through art, architecture, craft and design,” said Stephen Beal, President of the California College of the Arts, “We hope the show inspires both our own community and the public-at-large to see the incredible potential architecture has to move our society forward.”

The exhibition marks the first large-scale exhibition mounted on the CCA’s Back Lot—an expansive ground for making and displaying art, staging events, and socializing. It features both site-specific and new works and includes:

  • Thinness – a structure created by APTUM Architecture in collaboration with CEMEX—one of the world’s largest concrete and cement companies. The cross-vaulted pavilion utilizes high-performance, lightweight concrete to create hollow, perforated, and half-inch thick walls that mimic the light and shadow play more often associated with metal. APTUM and CEMEX have used similar strategies together to create a floating lightweight concrete island in Cambodia that helps bolster mangrove restoration.
  • Polymorph Pavilion – This ongoing design/build project initiated in Spring 2017 during an advanced architectural design studio at CCA. Students worked collectively to research, develop, and fabricate a small experimental structure for CCA’s Backlot that could provide a sheltered space to cast concrete and plaster during workshops and classes. The structure--created from upcycling foam waste material from local Bay Area fabricator Kreysler & Associates into lightweight masonry blocks--was made through the use of parametric modeling, structural analysis, and robotic fabrication techniques and serves as an icon of CCA’s strength in digital craft.
  • Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab – Serving as a prototype for a floating breakwater, this structure uses variation in surface to create distinctive habitats both above and below the water, promoting ecological diversity to ensure a more sustainable and resilient ecosystem. The project was the result of three years of research and studios led by faculty Adam Marcus, Margaret Ikeda, and Evan Jones at CCA’s Digital Craft Lab. It is made from an ecologically friendly material—a fiber-reinforced polymer composite substrate—that the team developed with Kreysler & Associates and the Benthic Lab at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. It will be deployed in San Francisco Bay in 2018 to further develop the substrate research and understand the prototype's potential to reduce waves and mitigate coastal erosion.
  • Clastic Order – Created by the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning Assistant Professors Thom Moran, Ellie Abrons, Adam Fure, and Meredith Miller (T+E+A+M), this pavilion transforms the fragments of buildings—including brick, concrete, glass, pipes, and more—into a hybrid material resembling rock to create free-standing columns that have uniform, stone-like surfaces. The concept is part of ongoing research at the college to support a project that would convert rising plastic pollution in oceans into building materials.
  • McKnelly Megalith – This 2000-pound, 16-foot-long, glass fiber reinforced, concrete structure is the result of a collaboration between Matter Design and MIT Architecture. Inspired by determining the mystery behind Easter Island’s giant standing stone sculptures moai, MIT students used digital design to control the distribution of weight within this massive object that can be walked horizontally and stood vertically with little effort.

A program for Designing Material Innovation, including an essay by curator Jonathan Massey, is being distributed at the exhibition. In addition, CCA is organizing programming in conjunction with the exhibition including an opening celebration, a lecture exploring the show’s themes, and a symposium gathering convened by exhibition designer Clark Thenhaus.

About programming

Designing Material Innovation Opening Celebration

September 28, 2017 at 5:30 p.m.

CCA’s Back Lot

Designing Material Innovation: An Exploration of Process

October 2, 2017 at 7:00 p.m.

Timken Lecture Hall

CCA faculty present their structures which are part of the “Designing Material Innovation” exhibition. Participants include: Andrew Kudless (Casting pavilion); Adam Marcus, Margaret Ikeda, and Evan Jones (Float Lab); and Clark Thenhaus (Confetti Urbanism).

Designing Material Innovation Symposium

Keynote and Reception October 26, 2017 at 6:00 p.m.

Keynote by Philippe Block, ETH Zürich; Block Research Group

Panels and Presentations Oct 27, 20167 from 9:00 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.

Nave Alcove Presentation Space

Participants to include nationally and internationally distinguished speakers from architecture, engineering, industry, and materials science.


Designing Material Innovation is supported by generous gifts from CEMEX, Swissnex San Francisco, Grants for the Arts / San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, and individual donors.