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Awards aplenty come to USC Architecture’s Alvin Huang

Accolades roll in for innovative faculty member

assistant professor Alvin Huang
Alvin Huang is one of five USC Architecture faculty members who will be honored at this year's meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.

This has been a good past six months for Alvin Huang ’98, assistant professor at the USC School of Architecture and principal of the downtown Los Angeles studio Synthesis Design + Architecture.

In July, his studio won an international competition to reimagine a traditional trade show pavilion for Volvo’s new electric hybrid, the V60. The studio designed a flexible pavilion that collapses into the trunk. When deployed, the curved pavilion resembles an orchid and has a second function: photovoltaic panels on its surface recharge the vehicle. The clever sustainable design, named Pure Tension, topped 150 others submitted from around the world.

In November, Pure Tension was selected as one of Time magazine’s “25 Best Inventions of 2013.” It is headed to this year’s Milan Design Fair and Venice Biennale.

This month, Pure Tension won a National Small Project Award from the American Institute of Architects and was shortlisted for the Small Projects 2014 Award given by Architects’ Journal. It also was named a finalist for this year’s Architizer A+ Awards. (The public can vote for the last award at

Earlier this year, it was announced that Huang is one of five USC Architecture faculty members who will be honored at this year’s meeting of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. He is one of three architecture professors nationwide receiving a New Faculty Teaching Award. He also is being given a faculty design and research award by the association for a sculptural home office that features an undulating built-in desk made from laminated plywood.

The final accolade came last month when it was announced that Huang’s studio won the Autodesk Small Business Success Award, an international competition celebrating a company that excels in innovation, leadership and excellence in design work. Autodesk is a major creator of 3-D design software for the architecture, design and entertainment industries.

“We’re thrilled,” Huang said. “It’s one thing to be recognized in the architectural profession for our innovative use of technology, but it’s particularly nice also to be recognized by the industry making the technologies that we are innovating with.”

Beakerhead festival rendering

Rendering of the temporary pavilion for this year’s Beakerhead festival (Courtesy Synthesis Design + Architecture)

Huang, who received his bachelor’s degree in architecture from USC, earned a master’s of architecture and urbanism from the Architectural Association Design Research Laboratory in London in 2004. At USC Architecture, he coordinates the third-year design studios and teaches architectural technology and post-professional graduate studios. His specialties are the application of material performance, emergent design technologies and digital fabrication. His mix of interests is sometimes called “digital craft,” which, he explained, “explores the exchange between the technology of the digitally conceived and the artisan qualities of the handmade.”

Huang designs projects ranging from high-rise towers and mixed-use developments to bespoke furnishings. Their locations are global. For example, his studio just completed a shopping center in Thailand and is working on a 2,000-seat performance hall in Yongding, China.

His four studio employees are just as international, hailing from Jordan, Taiwan and Portugal. The United States is represented by Joseph Sarafian ’10 and Huang, a Chinese-American.

“I’ve intentionally sought out international designers because although we are based in L.A., our projects are everywhere,” Huang said. “L.A. imports talent and exports ideas.”

Looking ahead, Huang is working on a temporary pavilion for the second annual Beakerhead festival in Calgary this fall, an event known as an “urban Burning Man” that’s a smashup of art, science and engineering.

Beakerhead organizers said that they find ingenuity at the intersection of technical and creative streams, which seems precisely the right place for innovators like Huang.

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Awards aplenty come to USC Architecture’s Alvin Huang

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