atelier V Entry to eVolo 2013

Westwood, California

In an effort to push the boundaries of experimental architecture, sustainability, and social responsibility, atelier V: architecture ( continually searches for solutions to the question of “Shelter” in a way that would affect large populations of people and provide an alternative to existing norms so readily practiced in recently developed cities of The Middle East and North Africa, thereby participation in eVolo 2013.  ” The Courtyard Cube as we call it,  is really a condensed self contained and for the most part a self sufficient mechanism to house thousands and ultimately millions of people in what would otherwise be inhospitable environments around the globe” Says Mark Vaghei, AIA, atelier V’s Principal in Charge.  As the the world population increases and resources become more scarce by the day, solutions must be found to satisfy the demand for housing and work space with minimal carbon footprints and renewable sources of water and energy.  The Courtyard Cubes can ultimately become organisms that breath, regenerate and produce.  They can become our cities of the future containing housing, agriculture, factories, work space, green space and recreation all plugged into a larger smart grid.  Imagine the possibilities !



By: Elise McCurley

Desertification is progressively effacing earth’s forested landscapes and depleting natural food and water resources. The only way to reverse the climate effects of desertification is to green the desert. Re-planting the arid landscape and harvesting water for irrigation are the key concepts of the desert greening process. The skyscraper we propose is a method for desert greening; a city for the arid landscapes that already account for 25% of earth’s land mass.

The architecture for the desert greening Courtyard Cube is based on the concept of porosity and the traditional courtyard typology. The courtyard house offers a cooling respite from arid climates because of it’s inherent porosity—it breathes, allowing stale hot air to exit and cool breezes latent with water vapor to saturate the interior space and it’s surroundings. The courtyard cube applies the same principles, creating an architecture that breathes, sustains the landscape and brings life—and water—to the desert.



Cities located in arid and semi-arid desert regions where freshwater resources are scarce are the proposed site for the courtyard cube. These cities have a need for replenish-able, reliable water sources and housing as they grapple with how to expand geographically and infra-structurally to accommodate growing populations. The fundamental water harvesting infrastructure and provision for housing of the courtyard cube allows these desert cities to sustain current levels of consumption as well as accommodate future growth.

First and foremost, the courtyard cube supplies nearby cities with water. Many desert cities rely on water from far off rivers and lakes that have all but slowed to a trickle or are no more than dry lake beds. Instead of continually building new dams and depleting natural water sources, which only accelerates the process of desertification, the cities will harvest and store their water supply in the Courtyard Cube. Secondly, the desert provides ample space for housing. The larger the city, the larger the need for housing. Cities often lack housing, forcing many to live in impromptu housing or far away in suburbs (i.e. Mumbai and Los Angeles, respectively). With the water harvesting infrastructure of the courtyard cube, housing is an effective land use for the under-utilized and under-valued deserts.

In the future, the courtyard cube is developed as an independent entity in the desert, becoming a new urban model in a world that has drained most or all freshwater supplies. The cube offers a new model of the oasis in the desert, where water is produced and stored in reservoirs. With the infrastructure to produce water and food, these self-sustaining desert oasis’ will long outlast traditional cities dependent on water and food brought in from outside sources.




Traditional cities can lack adequate housing, clean water, locally grown food and infrastructure for the world’s growing urban populations. The cube alleviates the environmental, infrastructural, and population stresses on urban centers by creating new cities in the deserts of the world. The courtyard cube provides high density housing, produces and recycles it’s own supply of fresh water, and facilitates the production of food generating arable land . One-quarter of all land is covered in semi arid or arid desert, the courtyard cube harnesses the great potential of this uninhabited, under-valued natural resource and reverses the process of desertification through the desert greening method.



The first function of the tower’s roof is to mitigate solar exposure and heat gain by shading the cube below. The roof is also a solar energy production plant. Covered in enough photo-voltaic panels to meet all the energy demands of the users below, the community self-sufficiently produces it’s own electrical energy (1). It also supports a helipad for emergency transport of people and goods to the nearest city or neighboring cubes. The helipad and roof services are accessed via the vertical circulation system of stair and elevator towers below. The roof is made of 60’ wide roof modules supported by trusses. The modules allow for the formation of a porous and ‘breathable’ roof structure. The modules are arranged to allow rising hot air to escape from the interior below (2) and are constructed to collect and funnel any rainwater into the cube’s water reservoir (3). The voids that create the porous roof structure also allow for indirect sunlight to filter into the courtyards below (4).



The water vapor recycling system is the primary water source for the courtyard cube. Powered by the solar energy plant on the roof structure, the water vapor system is located beneath the roof and on the exposed undersides of the stacked building modules. The cycle is as follows: (1) evaporation from courtyard water features and transpiration from extensive landscaping add a significant amount of water vapor to the air, (2) the water vapor in the air is filtered and condensed into water through the ceiling mounted vapor condensation system, (3) the resulting fresh water is collected and re-circulated into the tower infrastructure–pipes carry the water to residences and irrigation systems, (4) the water is released back into the eco-system through an artificial precipitation system in the roof truss structure.



The cube form is based on the courtyard house typology and the underlying concept of porosity. A porous architecture innately allows air to flow uninhibited through the structure. Fresh air and desert breezes flow in while warm air rises and exits through the porous roof surface and the voids of the structure. The voids that create the porosity of the structure traverse the x, y, and z planes, providing ample negative space for air and wind to circulate uninhibited.  The porosity creates a breathing, living structure adapted to the desert climate. Opposite of hermetically sealing the interior and utilizing HVAC systems, the cube uses effective form and mass planning to vent and cool the interior.



The oasis transformed by the micro-climate will ultimately sustain the desert city. There are three stages to the development of the micro-climate once the ring-like configuration of courtyard cubes are in place. Stage 1 is the initial development of a water reservoir in the middle of the ring of cubes. Desert winds are swept up and over the ring of cubes, allowing for the development of a separate ecological and environmental climate. Stage 2: as the reservoir grows with the towers’ capture of water vapor, the reservoir size positively affects the cycle of evaporate-transpiration, condensation, and precipitation in the oasis, creating a more conducive environment for plant growth. Stage 3: the reservoir reaches it’s full size and functions as a thermal mass, capturing the desert heat and reducing the air temperature of the oasis during the day.



Two modes of ground transportation are incorporated in the infrastructure of the cube. The primary mode of transportation is by monorail. At the middle of the central courtyard of each cube is a monorail station. The monorail travels under the podium level of the tower and connects to other cubes in the vicinity. In this way, the monorail links the different parts of the city and offers an efficient mode of everyday transportation. The second mode of transportation is through a network of highways built underneath and around the cubes. A main highway connects all the cubes and follows the same trajectory as the monorail. The secondary system is a ring road around each cube, where tertiary roads connect and provide access to the service systems and parking located underneath the podium levels.



eVolo is an architecture and design journal focused on technological advances, sustainability, and innovative design for the 21st Century. Our objective is to promote and discuss the most avant-garde ideas generated in schools and professional studios around the world. It is a medium to explore the reality and future of design with up-to-date news, events, and projects. See:

eVolo 2013 Skyscraper Competition

eVolo Magazine  invites architects, students, engineers, designers, and artists from around the globe to take part in the eVolo 2013 Skyscraper Competition. Established in 2006, the annual Skyscraper Competition is one of the world’s most prestigious awards for high-rise architecture. It recognizes outstanding ideas that redefine skyscraper design through the implementation of novel technologies, materials, programs, aesthetics, and spatial organizations along with studies on globalization, flexibility, adaptability, and the digital revolution. It is a forum that examines the relationship between the skyscraper and the natural world, the skyscraper and the community, and the skyscraper and the city.

The participants should take into consideration the advances in technology, the exploration of sustainable systems, and the establishment of new urban and architectural methods to solve economic, social, and cultural problems of the contemporary city including the scarcity of natural resources and infrastructure and the exponential increase of inhabitants, pollution, economic division, and unplanned urban sprawl.

The competition is an investigation on the public and private space and the role of the individual and the collective in the creation of a dynamic and adaptive vertical community. It is also a response to the exploration and adaptation of new habitats and territories based on a dynamic equilibrium between man and nature – a new kind of responsive and adaptive design capable of intelligent growth through the self-regulation of its own systems.

There are no restrictions in regards to site, program or size. The objective is to provide maximum freedom to the participants to engage the project without constraints in the most creative way. What is a skyscraper in the 21st century? What are the historical, contextual, social, urban, and environmental responsibilities of these mega-structures?

eVolo Magazine is committed to continue stimulating the imagination of designers around the world – thinkers that initiate a new architectural discourse of economic, environmental, intellectual, and perceptual responsibility that could ultimately modify what we understand as a contemporary skyscraper, its impact on urban planning and on the improvement of our way of life. See:

For a list of this year’s winners please go to:



Elise McCurley, Junior Designer/3D Artist