Designer Models Sustainability for London Olympics


Laguna Beach architectural designer Phillipe Horvath and the fountain he designed for his parents Top of the World home.

Laguna Beach architectural designer Phillipe Horvath will watch the outcome of the London Olympics closely.

Rather than a podium, though, he’ll be eyeing how potential developers, industrialists and entrepreneurs respond to his scale model on display in the Olympic Village pavilion occupied by France’s national utility.

Named TCORE, Horvath’s 238-foot module contains a kitchen and bath large enough for a family of four. Made from recycled aluminum, the rectangular structure is light, easy to transport, in part solar powered and adaptable to any sort of building near an electrical and water grid.

“It’s up to you what you want to build around it. You could use natural resources in, say, Malaysia to build the living area and then attach the unit,” he said. “The beauty of the unit is that, if need be, you could just pitch a tent around it.” Computer models show it stacked in a high-rise mode, attached to a bamboo house, to conical mud houses and, enlarged, as a base for several adjoining units.

There are no specific cost figures for such a unit since none has been actually built yet. Even so, architectural specifications peg average building costs for a basic conventional 150 foot kitchen, including structure and interior, at a minimum $400 a foot or $60,000. However, once TCORE is mass-produced it should cost a lot less, Horvath said.

Laguna Beach landscape architect Ann Christoph calls it a practical solution, one that might eventually replace aesthetically deficient modular housing. “One could buy the core and then build very attractive housing, adapted to different settings and cultures around it without needing very sophisticated help,” she said.

Horvath’s passion for elegant architecture first ignited while representing marble and granite distributors. He had a chance to see what he describes as some of the area’s stunning architectural design, such as a John Lautner home in Malibu.

Judging by homes and interiors he designed in Laguna Beach and San Diego, Horvath, 52, favors flowing floor plans, natural materials and enough individual touches to remove the “cold” label pinned onto modern architecture.  A canyon-compatible palette, sweeping facade and subtle Spanish-Middle Eastern touches distinguishes a contemporary house he designed in 1995 for his parents in the Top of the World neighborhood.

He belongs to legions of young architects and designers inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture. Horvath, though, actually attended Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), an institution requiring students to live communally while individually studying with master architects, to competently sing, act or play music, and to sleep in isolated shepherds tents in the desert.

Today, serene spaces he’s designed such as the Self-Realization Fellowship Book and Gift Store in Encinitas evidence his conviction that structures affect occupants’ spiritual well-being. It’s a precept that first took root in Arizona. “In the desert, I learned how little one needs to be happy in the world,” he recalled.

An example of Horvath’s modular unit adapted to a bamboo forest.

His creative journey took another turn when his San Diego-based design firm, Horvath & Associates went under in 2009 and he re-enrolled at the Art Center College of Art and Design (where he had earned a bachelor of science degree in 1985) for advanced product design classes.

Course work including so-called Life Cycle Analyses helped him conceptualize TCORE, which fit contest guidelines by France’s utility for “creative scenarios” and “energy efficiency in a framework of social innovation.” He won Electricité de France’s $45,000 sustainable design challenge last year.

Horvath’s project was one of 35 entries and seven winners, endorsed and represented in Paris by Art Center instructor Fridolin Beiser. It won under the banner of a biotech project since it combines use of technology separate from biological building components.

Horvath found his latest calling during classwork where he and fellow students examined the meaning of sustainability by studying products and processes. Their research delved into the cost of, for example, a plastic appliance: extraction and shipping of oil, transformation and manufacture, and that’s just the outside. Then comes analysis of the lifespan of working parts. Perversely, the study examines the cost of the post-war manufacturing concept of “built-in obsolescence.”

“Phillipe applied what he had learned to building, proving that sustainability need not be separate from timelessness and beauty,” said Beiser.

As for the prize money, Horvath has it earmarked for the refinement and building of TCORE.

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