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Leading architects envision digital future in China

Krieger_Dianeby Diane Krieger
Neil Leach

Neil Leach is an architect, theorist and USC adjunct professor. (Photo/Oleg Kvashuk)

The conversation in architecture schools has moved from bricks and mortar to terabits and morphing. USC’s Neil Leach is at the vanguard of that shift. His recent project, a major exhibition in Beijing, documents the “digital infiltration” now underway at the world’s leading architecture schools.

“There has been a revolution in architecture,” said Leach, adjunct professor in the USC School of Architecture. “Computation has spread like a virus­ — especially in China. By 2020 it will be everywhere.”

He and co-curator Xu Weiguo of Tsinghua University put together the “Design Intelligence: Advanced Computational Research” exhibition to highlight work from 32 schools, including USC, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton and China’s Tsinghua and Tongji universities.

Farahi architectural installation

Alloplastic Architecture, an interactive installation by USC student Behnaz Farahi, was exhibited in Beijing. (Photo/Courtesy of Neil Leach)

The exhibition, which opened in late September, juxtaposes designs by graduate students and leading professionals. Representing USC were master of architecture students Behnaz Farahi, Yunyun Huang and Wendong Wang, along with world-famous alumni Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry.

Leach is no stranger to China: He has co-curated several Architecture Biennial Beijing exhibitions. He also runs USC’s American Academy in China, a summer architecture institute that culminated in the “Interactive Shanghai” forum and exhibition at Tongji University in August.

His own architectural experimentation strays even farther than the Asian nation — it ventures into space.

Fabrication in space

Robotic fabrication technology for 3-D printing structures on the moon and Mars (Visualization/Connor Wingfield and Behnaz Farahi).

As a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts fellow, he collaborates with USC Viterbi School of Engineering researchers Behrokh Khoshnevis, Anders Carlson and Madhu Thangavelu on robotic fabrication technologies. Their goal is to build structures on the moon and Mars using 3-D printers. Leach also has a forthcoming book on the topic: Space Architecture: The New Frontier of Research.

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