NewSchool of Architecture + Design

NewSchool of Architecture + Design

San Diego, CA


NewSchool of Architecture and Design Final Thesis Project: “High-Performance Concrete in Architecture”

By NewSchoolSanDiego
Jul 25, '12 5:50 PM EST
Credit: Zachary Alan Smith/NSAD
Credit: Zachary Alan Smith/NSAD

Final Thesis Project: “High-Performance Concrete in Architecture”
Author: Zachary Alan Smith, NewSchool of Architecture and Design Class of 2012
Master in Architecture program

Summary: Zachary Alan Smith’s final thesis at NewSchool of Architecture and Design was inspired by the evolving use of concrete in structural forms, in particular the use of the material by architect Rudolph M. Schindler in La Jolla, San Diego, where six of the original 12 housing units designed by Schindler still exist, as well as by Smith’s interest in how concrete is incorporated into the Salk Institute building, also in La Jolla. Smith’s thesis project is a study into concrete structural forms that proposes a design to collect water for storage or irrigation purpose. The form of the design is based on the system of water collection adapted by the Namibian Desert Beetle, which collects moisture on its back and then drinks the water from its own structural system of folds by tilting its back. The design proposal is applied to two specific scenarios: housing pods in Oxnard that could be used by migrant farm workers during the farming season and tourists at other times;  and placement near a water treatment plant in Chicago to collect rainwater. A third case scenario would provide customized solutions for homes collecting water run-off in suburban areas for slow-drip irrigation. Through these case studies, the project explores the advances and future potential of concrete material as an affordable and flexible structural component.

Excerpt from thesis by Zachary Alan Smith, 2012 graduate of NSAD Master in Architecture Program:

As drafting and design become predominantly digital, architects are exploring forms and shapes that challenge traditional architectural structural notions. Consequently, these new forms are pushing the boundaries of traditional building materials and what can actually be built. Conveniently, however, we likely do not need novel materials to produce these newer digital forms—we can instead look to new applications of a material we have used for centuries. Concrete has traditionally been a popular material within architecture, owing to its strength, temperature control, abundance, and cost-effectiveness. However, there are also features of concrete that make it an ideal material for building more contemporary digital forms that have traditionally eluded the transition from digital to physical form. As software allows us to design forms, shapes, and concepts that defy flat plane geometries, concrete carries the potential to respond to these dimensions while also maintaining its structural integrity.

Concrete is an ideal candidate for a cost-effective, widely-available material that has seen improvements in its structural properties over the past 10-20 years. I will describe here the evolution of concrete as a building material that makes it ideal for pushing forward modern architecture in realizing structures that have previously only been ephemeral conceptions. Similar to how many newer 3D modeling programs break down complex curvature into polygonal meshes in order to create both accuracy and infinite flexibility, we can pixilate a curved form into several rigid polygonal plates and connect them with a flexible membrane to generate complex moulds. Then, Glass Fiber Reinforced (GFR) concrete—with its increased strength, rapid cure times and spray application—will allow the moulds to be very thin and thus highly flexible compared to traditional concrete forming methods. Furthermore, these moulds are both inexpensive to produce and can be re-used to create a large variety of curved forms and shapes.

About NewSchool of Architecture and Design      
NewSchool of Architecture and Design (NSAD), founded in 1980, is located in San Diego, California. NSAD is accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). ACICS is listed as a nationally recognized accrediting agency by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. NSAD’s Bachelor of Architecture, Master of Architecture and Executive Master of Architecture programs are accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB). NSAD also offers a pre-professional Bachelor of Arts in Architecture, a Bachelor of Science in Digital Media Arts, a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management, a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture, a Master of Landscape Architecture, a Master of Construction Management and a Master of Science in Architecture. NSAD was ranked among the top 10 undergraduate architecture schools in the western United States, according to the DesignIntelligence report “America’s Best Architecture & Design Schools 2012.” For more information, visit

Media Contact:
Anna Cearley
Tel. 1-619-684-8791
Cell. 1-619-301-3701