The Los Angeles office of the global architecture and engineering firm AECOM recently tried its hand at reinventing a beloved Southern California icon: the surfboard. Created for the the runway show at the L.A.-based A+D Museum's annual gala, Hang 10 Million gets its name from the length of material of which it is crafted: 10 million linear feet of carbon fiber. To make the object, AECOM designers developed a custom filament-winding machine to wrap the fiber around a surfboard profile, which had been cut into strips for easier removal once the fibers had been applied.

Hang 10 Million is captivating not for its function but instead for what its striking aesthetic suggests about material potential. After all, no surfer would remain aloft for long on this quickly sinking craft. The skeletal design is visually provocative because it recalls a readily-recognizable product that, in this case, has minimal material substance, as much of the object is merely implied and is not physically present. As a result, the artifact's striking silhouette is more akin to a drawing than it is to a tangible object.

Carbon-fiber wrapped around the profile of AECOM's surfboard.
AECOM Carbon-fiber wrapped around the profile of AECOM's surfboard.

In architecture, this concept manifests in the creation of a skeletal construction made from a collection of thin, high-strength materialssuch as the ShinMinamata Mon gateway by Japanese architect Makoto Sei Watanabe or the 21st Century Oasis tower in Taiwan proposed by Sou Fujimoto Architects in Japan with Taiwanese firm Fei & Cheng Associates. If complete shelter is required, such a shell could be clad in thin, transparent textiles that maintain the wire-frame appearance. While using millions of linear feet of high-embodied-energy materials like carbon fiber can be costly and energy-intensive, the same idea might be applied using structurally reinforced natural fibers. Moreover, the approach characterized by the use of minimal materials aligns with the objective of resource consciousness—creating objects and environments out of almost nothing.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.