Top Fuel at the University of Southern California is a one week, intensive design-build workshop focused on performative systems and the construction of full-scale prototypes. This year's workshop was focused on Pneumatic Systems under the guidance of Achim Menges from the Institute for Computational Design at Stuttgart University and Thomas Auer of Transsolar Klimaengineering.

"Pneumatic systems are relatively rare in architecture. They are difficult to design, as most design techniques can simply not capture their underlying, shape – determining characteristics. They are complicated to plan, as they ruthlessly expose any design features not fully aligned with the logics of the material system. And they are intricate to fabricate, as they require the employment of materials quite different from those used in regular building construction. But they offer a most interesting advantage: they are built with air! I the heydays of experimental architectural pneumatic structures in the 1960s and 1970s this was mainly explored as a new inroad into lightweightness and deploy-ability. 
The workshop will investigate how the often overlooked lineage of pneumatic systems in architecture can be injected with a new life through contemporary means of computational design, simulation, and fabrication. As mentioned above pneumatic systems have been explored for their structural effectiveness and deploy-ability, but more often than not their environmental performance turned out to be quite problematic. Thus one of the critical aspects of this workshop is to broaden the performance range through the inclusion of environmental design criteria, for which the challenging climate of Southern California will serve as a real-world development laboratory."

Our team created a parametric pneumatic canopy constructed from 320 air-inflated tubes ranging in length from 5' to 9' covering the 64' long bridge connecting Watt Hall and Harris Hall. The design was calibrated to provide sun shading and direct air flow across the bridge using the Venturi Effect. Pneumatic structures are inherently unforgiving and the project required an enormous effort to refine the connections and inflation systems. Each of the 320 tubes were supplied with air via a manifold that ran the entire length of the bridge on each side of the canopy, and the system was continually pressurized with two shop vacuums. The entire system was simplified down to two unique details (Tube-Manifold & Tube-Cable) which allowed our 9 student team to construct and install the canopy in 72 hours. 

Project Team:
Aaron Benjamin
Olivia Burke
Kiana Dolat
James Donovan
Winston Kahn
Eric Linnaus
Nathan Meyers
Sukreet Singh
Xander Tertychny