USC Carapace Pavilion

The Shape of Things to Come

USC architecture students take their skills into the field.

Steven Biller Current PSL, Home & Design, Modernism, Real Estate

USC Carapace Pavilion

The Carapace Pavilion at Joshua TreeNational Park.



An unusual shade structure has appeared in a closed-to-the-public area of Joshua Tree National Park. Students from the University of Southern California School of Architecture designed the curvilinear Carapace Pavilion as a prototype to replace the park’s standard double-restroom buildings but never put it into service.

USC students, who have been designing hypothetical buildings for the park (chosen for its extreme location and conditions) for more than a decade, realized Carapace Pavilion with funds granted by the Precast Concrete Industry Foundation, which was interested in their use of fiber-reinforced, ultra-high-performance concrete. The students cast the super-strong material off-site in five panels from a single mold and installed it on the sensitive landscape without digging.

“The calculations were really intense because of its double- curved geometry.

“The calculations were really intense because of its double-curved geometry,” says Doug Noble, the school’s associate dean for academic affairs, who also teaches an interdisciplinary course on national parks. “We wanted to push the material to the limit while allowing for an extreme overhang.”

Site-specific features include a diagrid pattern inspired by a cholla cactus skeleton and a pink color matching the sky at sunset. While there’s no plan to build more pavilions, the tubular form expresses the possibilities for minimalist architecture around the park. Next, the USC students are designing a prototype for a dozen prefab tiny homes, each with a thermal-regulating “super wall,” to be built outside the park (but in “the spirit of the place”) for seasonal park rangers.

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