CO Presents 02: Alvin Huang of Synthesis Design and Architecture


Alvin Huang shares the process behind developing his 3D printed Durotaxis Chair.

By: Lois Lee

As part of CO’s Balcony Hour series, CO Presents, the office hosted Alvin Huang, founder of Synthesis Design + Architecture and Assistant Professor at the USC School of Architecture to present and share his work.  

Alvin was my fifth year thesis advisor at USC. His work was very different from what I was used to in previous studios. I was apprehensive at first,  but saw this challenge as an opportunity my last year and put his “Informed Form” studio at the top of my list. I was challenged. The assigned readings by Patrik Schumacher were, at that time, quite possibly the most difficult things I ever had to absorb. (Little did I know I would have to tackle Grasshopper the next semester.)

I was overwhelmed by the new digital language, not knowing how to translate the digital into the physical. When I was stuck, he told me to stop doing what I was doing—thinking. While the majority of  my peers were engulfed in encoding and digesting grasshopper definitions and grappling with forms derived digitally, Alvin told me to model a physical model. He wanted me to think, but do so intuitively—physically, wholly detached from the digital. These physical models, mapped by my intuitive decisions, became the backbone of my project and informed a narrative that was further developed digitally. All that time, I was misinterpreting when or how the digital had to be integrated into a project.

People often have misconceptions about “digital” or parametric architecture. But Alvin made his point clear to the CO staff; the computer is dumb. Without the human hand, without the technê, good design wouldn’t exist.

Behind every piece of Alvin’s portfolio, there is rigor, research and physical, human craft: the craft of narrative, space and reason. The computer may have brought his formal sweeps, facets, intricate chairs, and moiré experiences to life, but the real machine driving these concepts is the human hand.

Alvin crafts every experience—outside in, inside out, and from every direction—all while embedding an added layer of “movement” into his designs. He designs not only for the movement of people through his spaces, but for cars passing a façade on a busy highway and pedestrians walking by. Much like his architectural forms, the spatial experiences Alvin designs are not static, but always changing with movement.

Alvin Huang shares his extensive portfolio for the new Balcony Hour series, CO Presents.

Alvin Huang shares his extensive portfolio for the new Balcony Hour series, CO Presents.

Ever since his first presentation, he has ended with the same slide:


“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” –Mark Weisler.


Check out more of Synthesis Design + Architecture’s work on their website and follow @synthesisdna for snapshots captured by Alvin the designer, the professor, and the full-time dad!

Tune in for more CO Presents presentations in the future! CO Presents is an in-house lecture series where invited guests join us during Balcony Hour to present their work and ideas in a casual format where thoughtful discussion can occur. Architects, artists, technologists, educators and innovators bring fresh, inspiring perspectives to the CO community.

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