Two words repeatedly popped up when students participating in ACMA’s inaugural Composites in Architecture Design Challenge talked about their experiences in the contest – experimentation and excitement. “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. “We were open to explore what we wanted. That’s how we come up with something new and exciting.”

Students worked in teams on the challenge, which was sponsored by Ashland Performance Materials, to develop an innovative composite architectural component or assembly. They were urged to investigate and invent new – and sometimes radical – architectural designs. The winning designs, highlighted here, were on display in ACMA’s Composites Pavilion at the American Institute of Architects’ Convention in Philadelphia in May.

1st Place: UCLA, Undulating Gills

Six students in a seminar class on animated fibers, taught by Julia Koerner, created the winning entry: Anna Kudashkina, Yifan Wu, Yuekan Yu, Shahr Razi, Simi Shenoy and Marcelo Marcos. Their creation, entitled “Undulating Gills,” was inspired by several buildings, including the composite façade for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art designed by Snøhetta and fabricated by Kreysler & Associates.

“We were really curious about the composite materials and tried a few experiments, mainly working with closed vacuum bag processes,” says Shenoy. “We figured out a way to configure the materials within the bag and produce a series of panels in one shot.” The team created 8-foot-long CFRP panels utilizing a moldless fabrication technique in tandem with robotics. By robotically twisting a single infusion bag with several panels inside, they produced a series of identical panels.

The UCLA students also shifted the panels within the bag to achieve a gradient effect. “When the panels cured, we had a series of parametric-sized panels – not just one, but three to four,” says Shenoy. The resulting undulating panels “use the natural texture of the composites, so they have a sense of translucency that allows for lighting,” adds Shenoy.

“The unique aspect of this investigation was the attempt to make a flexible mold – or better yet, to eliminate the mold altogether,” says David Riebe of Windsor Fiberglass Inc., who coordinated the Composites in Architecture Design Challenge. “Through the use of robotic arms and a customized mandrel, the students were able to achieve a great deal of flexibility and efficiency during the infusion process. The ability to produce multiple matching parts out of a single infusion was quite ingenious.”