PLEASANT HILL -- Architectural awards, free professional guest lectures and massive new equipment are signs of the big ideas percolating in the Architecture and Engineering Department at Diablo Valley College.

"We also have a thesis studio that did work for the Transbay terminal for skyscraper design," said Daniel Abbott, chair of the Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Electronics Department. "The projects are on display in our lobby and are pretty impressive."

Abbott has been growing the program for the past 11 years and recently acquired 70 new computers.

"Several large grants we received, including a National Science Foundation grant that will restart our machine shop and manufacturing curriculum, as well as digital fabrication makes DVC an exciting place to learn," he said.

Abbot explains that in digital fabrication, a powerful computer numerical control (CNC) router can cut out materials such as plywood, and perfectly replicate designs entered into a computer. A new laser cutter can do the same thing to lighter materials, such as thin cardboard used to make architectural models.

That combination of imagination, practical skills and new equipment may have helped DVC students take first and second prizes at the statewide Design Village competition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo this spring, according to Abbott.

"The students are exceptionally bright, with a good work ethic. It doesn't matter how good the equipment is, you cannot win these awards without great ideas from the students," he said.


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Architecture student Eric Mortensen said, "We had to design and build a shelter that we could transport about a mile from the arrival area and construct on site in one day."

In keeping with the competition parameters, students were also challenged to build projects that were economical and functional enough to be reused for other purposes after the contest.

An integrated kite design framed with metal tubing, laced with canvas cloth and staked down with cables took first place.

"'The Kite' is a new structural concept; it is able to move into different positions and collapse," architecture student Emily Grace explained.

Evan McCurdy, Jonathan Seto and Casper Cheung worked with Grace on the project that they said requires resisting the forces of compression and tension to accommodate wind loads without collapsing or lifting off.

The Kite features the flexibility of altering the height and width for various uses. Imagine an elongated arch, which can be widened and contracted on the sides.

"It could be used for any kind of a shade structure," Grace said.

Inspired by traditional yurts, Mortensen, Robin Tsang and Zoljargel Utziisaikahn created the Optigon, a hexagon frame with loosely woven cloth walls that form a double barrier by means of a labyrinth-like entry for wind protection and privacy.

The hinged wood floor can be folded for storage or transportation and triangular, fabric-clad wood frames connected to rope pulleys form the roof with a circular opening in the center.

A pull on a rope allows the occupants to raise/open any triangular section of the roof. With all of them open, the structure resembles a floral bloom and gives a full view of the sky.

"Physics principals of tension and forces, and the use of levers allowed us to be able to carry the weight of the movable parts,' Mortensen said. "We have people interested in it as a garden structure or even a greenhouse."

About 10 models of skyscrapers designed for an array of uses at the Transbay Terminal development in San Francisco are on display in the DVC Engineering and Technology Department courtyard. The buildings include hotels, residential housing, recreational uses and commercial space which are easy to use and energy efficient.

Small teams of students made numerous trips to the South of Market intermodal transit construction site. Each group selected a location on which to design a building with the following elements in mind: governmental restrictions, the base/street compatibility, structural elements/strength, the central core/utility and elevators, and envelope/exterior energy efficiency and appearance.

"The project manager, Ted Williams, gave us a tour," Abbott said. "Guest architects came to give lectures on topics such as urban planning, structural engineers and builders,"

Abbott is clearly proud of his students.

"They are creative, they have art and computer skills and fresh, good ideas," he said. "They have a broad range of perceptions about how people can live."

His most recent class included students from Hong Kong and large cities in Korea, Turkey and elsewhere.

"The foreign students relate to apartments, high density and a city environment," Abbott said. "They added roof gardens and terraces."

A student from Turkey designed balconies in a high atrium space that simulated micro parks within the tower, similar to those she had seen there. Some projects included a library or civic use, along with commercial uses on the lower levels.

"It is an exciting time to think about designing architecture in San Francisco," Abbott said, mentioning the new Bay Bridge, the Transbay Terminal and the addition to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Reach Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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