Architect, citizen of Los Angeles and 2016 AIA|LA Presidential Honoree: Alvin Huang, AIA.

Alvin Huang, AIA - SDA | Synthesis Design + Architecture, 2016 Emerging Practice Recipient Answers our Q&A

The work of 2106 Emerging Practice award recipient, Alvin Huang, AIA, often develops from the exploration of digital craft—the interaction between the digital and fabrication, or assembly, processes that are very handmade or analogue. This rigorous attention to the combination of new technologies and older construction means has earned him attention within the design world and beyond. In 2014 he was named as a “Next Progressive” by Architect Magazine, while Time Magazine touted him one of the 20 Best Inventors of 2013.

So when we asked him what’s the one thing about Los Angeles that should never change as part of his official 2016 Presidential Honoree Q&A, we shouldn’t have been surprised that it had to do with experimentation.

You can read that answer and others that give insight into both his design process and Los Angeles, where he grew up and returned to teach at USC after nine years in London (two of which were spent working for Zaha Hadid) below:     

AIA|LA: Dream Commission. What current site in Los Angeles would you reconceive to serve our future, and how or why?
Alvin Huang, AIA - SDA | Synthesis Design + Architecture: Despite the fact that there is already a competition winning proposal for it's redevelopment,  I would have to identify Pershing Square as the site I would most like to reconceive. In its current version it is a poorly conceived contribution to a city that desperately needs more quality public space, a true missed opportunity. However, I’m really, really excited about the beautiful winning proposal by Agence Ter and my colleague Kelly Shannon (Director of the Landscape Architecture Program at USC Architecture) and can’t wait to experience it. It truly has the potential to be an active civic and social hub for our city that can re-activate our relationship with public space.

The dream commission that I would love to propose for that site would be the realization of the proposed Center for Architecture and Urbanism Los Angeles (CALA) currently being developed by the AIA|LA and A+D Museum. This proposition is something that I have been working on as a speculative project with my students at the USC School of Architecture for the past three years.

We have been exploring expanded versions of the CALA brief in collaboration with Nicci Solomons  (AIA|LA Executive Director) and Tibbie Dunbar (former A+D Director) on a variety of DTLA sites. I am very, very excited about the potential for this project to define Los Angeles as a first-class global destination for architecture and design by providing the city with a building which could serve as the epicenter of design on the West Coast while simultaneously providing an anchor and hub to an urban public event space that is usable, thoughtfully designed, and skillfully stitched into the DTLA urban fabric.

(Join us in celebrating Alvin Huang, AIA, and SDA | Synthesis Design + Architecture, at the 2016 AIA|LA Design Awards.)
(Find out more about SDA | Synthesis Design + Architecture and SDA projects such as Central Plaza Lampang in Thailand and Chelsea Workspace in London)

AIA|LA: What Los Angeles building, site, place or idea should never be changed?
AH: I really hope Los Angeles is forever defined by the legacy of California Modernism and the Case Study homes - in particular, how this legacy brought about the idea of Los Angeles as a site for experimental architecture that can challenge conventions about how we live and how we build. This is an aspect of that I think truly defines Los Angeles architecture and has allowed progressive design voices to continue to emerge and thrive in this city. Those movements were triggered by advances in technology and post-war shifts in society that were materialized as iconic homes.

However, we now have opportunities to take those ideas further in a more contemporary setting by utilizing emergent design & fabrication technologies to tackle evolving social dynamics through thoughtful yet visionary design. Hopefully, the city continues to move towards a model of density, affordable housing, and public transportation. I’m a huge fan of the work that Michael Maltzan, FAIA, Patrick Tighe, FAIA, and Brooks + Scarpa have been doing to highlight the fact that world-class design paired with brave clients can empower us to re-envision affordable housing while proving that great design and affordability do not have to be mutually exclusive. We have a clear and persistent problem in those regards and I believe we can make LA the world leader in thinking about how we can challenge those issues through experimental design - perhaps Los Angeles' design community can challenge the typology of multi-unit housing the way that California Modernism challenged the single family home?

AIA|LA: What project of yours, or detail of your work, you hope most influences Los Angeles.
AH: Given LA’s urban legacy as a car-culture, I think the Pure Tension Pavilion we did for Volvo has a lot of potential to help us re-think the way we conceive of our own personal mobility within this city. The Pure Tension Pavilion is a working prototype for a solar-powered and rapidly deployable pavilion for the Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid electric car that flat packs to fit inside the trunk of the car, erects within 45 minutes, and charges the car within 12 hours. I currently drive an electric car, a growing phenomenon which the city has truly embraced by implementing both incentives and infrastructure. However, the Pure Tension challenges the very notion of what parking and charging infrastructures might be. Perhaps, through clever and forward-thinking design, we can think of infrastructure as an accessory which travels with our cars rather than destinations that our cars drive to.

AIA|LA: What book, website, blog or Instagram feed about Los Angeles should we all be reading or following?
Book - The Architecture of Four Ecologies by Reyner Banham
Website - Curbed Los Angeles, DTLA Rising, DTLA Facebook Group
Instagram - mine of course! @synthesisDNA.

AIA|LA: Where is your favorite place to go in LA?
AH: If you hadn't noticed from my answers to the previous questions - I’m all about downtown LA. As an architect and a citizen I'm all about a walkable (and cyclable) urban experience. Where else in the world can you find a collection of truly iconic world-class buildings such as DSR's Broad Museum, Gehry's Disney Concert Hall, Moneo's Our Lady of the Angels, Prix's High School #9, and Mayne's Cal Trans Building all within minutes walk of one another? Most cities would be thrilled to have one, we've got SIX of 'em lined up in a row!! This coupled with some great shared urban spaces in Grand Park (my kids LOVE the splash park) and the pending re-vival of Pershing Square - the transformation of DTLA has been amazing to watch and I can't wait to see where it goes. I think it is one of the most (if not the most) diverse and inclusive parts of the city that embraces all walks of life.
Last updated: 22-Sep-2016 12:29 PM
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