moving forward

As we arrive at the last few sentences of the final thesis conversation, it becomes evident that the project holds some ground. The foothold that it finds, is a way of working that relies on exploration, discovery, challenges, failures and the architect to develop an informative design process. Drawings, models, and full scale prototypes become a synthetic medium in which the architect is able to discover new opportunity from real world experiences. Often in academia we find that speculation and observation generate designs both past and present, formulated along side the ambitions of case studies or nearby peers. This methodology hopes to bring new light and fresh air to students and possibly practitioners. It singles out the architect, enabling them to becomes inhabitants of the spaces they create, in order to inform the design decisions they will continue to make.

an altered approach

The film demonstrates the design approach and methodology I have constructed for my thesis. A methodology where testing and inhabitation begin to inform design decisions, in turn making architects more aware of the spaces they create.

drawing construction

Each drawing is constructed to show weather patterns, site constraints and the successes and failures of the design, highlighting informative re-design changes for the next iteration. The entire journey demonstrates my thesis and interest in forming a methodology where architects and designers create intimate relationships with the spaces they create, as a way to elevate our awareness as curators of the built environment.

testing grounds

The expedition required a multitude of sites at various altitudes. This elevation gain allowed many climate zones to be tested over a short period of time.


MC_03 is our second highest camp at 19,527 feet. We have spent nearly two weeks living in the Andes, and hygiene continue to be a topic of discussion. A tent that provided a means of clensing the body is a focus for the next iteration of design.


MC_01 is our first camp on the mountain. It has become apparent that energy for powering stoves and electronics (gps phone, camera, etc) that we are using for three weeks needs to be budgeted. A solar system that works with the geometry of the tent, or a tent which generates geometry from the dimensions of a solar panel would be beneficial.

responsive structure

As we reach basecamp we notice that wind speeds are gusting at over 40 mph,  this will be a major challenge. The testing I had done was to design a tent with an orientation into the wind, responding to winds that we would have in urban spaces. In extreme climates, because the systems are so large and spaces are so open, winds are unpredictable and come from all directions. They howl across the valley, along the side of the mountain and through the main traverses. A responsive structure that utilizes rotary sensors and arduinos could shift with the movement of the winds.

exterior space

VC_02 provides a calm day where the suns intensity in the only thing keeping us in our tents. A removable fly that can be used as an extension of the structure could create occupiable exterior space.


VC_01 was the first camp in the valley, where a rock was launched through the side panel of the tent. This began the conversation about introducing a new material in the next iteration.



MC_04, at 20, 262 feet was our highest camp on the mountain. The air is thin and a tent that could generate oxygen will help the body.

informed design process

In academia, we rely on presentation models and drawings as a critical medium to our conversations. I want to add a chapter. I want to display models that have been shredded by wind, and bleached from sunlight. Physical models we can learn from. Now, back in Ann Arbor I am able to examine my torn, patched, and sun burnt full scale model. Through my proposed working methodology it becomes evident the successes and failures of the design intentions. As I begin the process of informative re-design, I gather the rich body of knowledge from my research to test, alter and modify the tent through a series of drawings.

the larger conversation

As I return from the main research and testing phase of the project, I am able to continue the design and conversation back in Ann Arbor. The work has unexpectedly granted me the opportunity to engage with a multitude of people interested in the expedition. For me, it is a fantastic way to frame my thesis outside of the college and into the world.

The video below is from the Fox News Morning Show. Please fast forward through the commercials to view the full conversation.

singing our way out

Enjoying the last few minutes in the Andes with my expedition guide Vern Tejas. Singing our way down the remaining parts of the trail, with Aconcagua hovering in the distance.

high altitude expedition

Extreme climates and architecture. For me this project granted an opportunity to roll up my sleeves and test a design that was generated digitally and then fabricated using CNC milling machines in combination with hand construction. Throughout the process I have been able to be the designer, occupant, explorer, and researcher. Perhaps this is a working methodology that architects can utilize to formulate relationships with the spaces we create.


Once the summit has been reached the other half of the mountain has to be climbed. The team will then begin the trek down the mountain and return to MC-04 for the night before heading to Plaza de Mulas basecamp and hiking out of the Andes.

south face

Looking down on Aconcagua’s infamous south face and the sea of mountains in the distance exemplifies the pure elevation gain of the Andean giant.


Whether it be in architecture, high altitude climbing, or life; teamwork and learning to work together to overcome adversity is always a recipe for success. Our summit team enjoying a few short moments at 22,840 feet, the highest point in the Western Hemisphere.

final push

People sometimes ask the question, why? Its well below zero, the winds are relentless, the food and water are barely tolerable, what is the point of going to these extreme places in the world? Sitting in my tent, looking at the sun rise over the Andes reminds me why, and this is a view that I will carry with me as I make the laborious climb to the summit.

ready for the summit

Reaching MC-04 early gives our body one last chance to acclimatize and rest briefly. For me this is an opportunity to transcribe some of the weather data at our 21,500 foot camp. The night fall will come soon, and our team will set out for the summit at first light.

pit stop

Reaching MC-03 would allow us a few hours to set up camp, settle in for a short nights rest before waking up and moving to MC-04 in the morning.

fast ascent

With a short window to summit we move quickly to MC-03 at 19,500 feet. We have awaited this day for nearly a week, and every step of the grueling 5,000 ft vertical push has less oxygen; assuring us we are getting closer to the summit.

an invitation to return

As the morning skies cleared over Aconcagua it would be our last window of opportunity to summit. We altered our plan of ascent due to our level of fuel and food, and have planned a 5 day push to get up and over to the other side of the mountain. We would go from basecamp straight to MC-03, a high altitude 19,500 foot camp. Then the following day we would move to MC-04, our high camp at 21,500 feet before attempting to summit.

mental strength

Making the journey to places in the world that have extreme climate conditions requires a mindset that acknowledges the capabilities of the weather and allows climate to dictate your personal level of success. Spending 4 days at basecamp was a difficult mental challenge for our team, and we had to maintain a level of preparedness at all times. We spent our days hiking surrounding peaks, organizing and cleaning gear, preparing our ascent plan, laughing, and always keeping a close eye on the large cloud hovering over the summit of Aconcagua. For the moment that cloud disappears it would be our small window to ascent high on the mountain quickly.

the unknown

As the sun sets over basecamp the skies are deceivingly clear, the helicopter evacuates 3 of our teammates, and we work to mentally prepare for our next opportunity on the mountain.

the mountain dictates

As the temperatures drop well below zero and the wind begin to exceed speeds of 50 mph, our ascent becomes the topic of discussion. Weather predictions from the bottom of the mountain show a system moving in capable of producing wind speeds over 70 mph and the consistent drop in temperature will freeze our water supply and put our team at a great risk of hypothermia, frost bite, etc.  Currently we are at 17,500 feet and are going to retreat over 3,000 vertical feet back to basecamp.


inclement weather

Set up at MC-02 we realize that the weather has turned for the worse and we settle in for the storm. This site is highly exposed to the elements, and as the winds howl outside, our tent becomes the only shelter that we have.

oxygen is good more is better

It would be stealing if I did not give my guide Vern Tejas full credit for the phrase “oxygen is good, more is better”. As we climb from 15,500 to 17,500 feet it becomes imperative to breathe often and with intention so that the body is able to receive an adequate amount of oxygen. Failure to do so can lead to medical problems such as cerebral or pulmonary edema that can rapidly place one in critical condition.

site selection

We are packing up our tents and the remaining gear that has not been carried to our next site and moving up the mountain. Moving from MC-01 we are aware that the next site has less protection for our tents and a water supply that is further away from camp.


Once away from the luxuries of basecamp life returns to the essentials; food, water, oxegon, and shelter. Daylight becomes a critical determinant for when and how the human body is able to function. As the sun sets over MC-01 at 15,500 ft we are forced to quickly retreat to our tents and insulated bags for warmth. As the sun rises we await the moment when the light will strike our tents and warm them to allow us to prepare for the day.

every ounce counts

Before the climb, during the climb, and after the climb, every piece of equipment gets weighed and accounted for. Each individual on the team is responsible for their own personal gear as well as group gear. Maintaining a light weight team is one of the large challenges for high altitude mountaineering.

highest level of domesticity

Basecamp offers a world within a world on the mountain. As I pursue the study of extreme climates, and places where people nor architecture are able to inhabit, basecamp integrates itself as the misfit. Here there is a large community of cooks, guides, porters, expedition staff, doctors, entrepreneur’s, and opportunists. This is the place of the mountain that offers the highest level of domesticity.


At times, when the nights sky allows, a simple detachment from the daily amenities provides a window for new opportunities.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.16.2012 : 2013 / Location: Aconcagua, AR

on site repair

Quick agility on site was a key component to the project. This was several hours into the first night, and because the temperatures were still warm I was able to use fabric repair tape to mend the tears in the fly and inner tent. Over the next few days the sun would heat up the tape and tightly bond it to the fabric. This connection would be imperative for the tent to perform adequately high on the mountain.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.15.2012 : 1819 / Location: Aconcagua, AR

tornado drill

Moments after I completed setting up my tent for the first night, a dust tornado appeared about 200 yards in the distance. It moved quickly through the valley of the high altitude desert and picked up a neighboring tent, launching the tent (North Face VE-25) and all of the rocks attached to its anchors through the air.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.15.2012 : 1649 / Location: Aconcagua, AR

stepping into the elements

Aconcagua stands as the highest point in the America’s and Western hemisphere. The high altitude mountain is amidst ice, rock, cold skies, and winds that howl like a freight train roaring through the Andes. At times the best recording device can be the country’s blue and white flag that can be found flying proud at all elevations on the mountain.

On February 15, 2012 I started my trek into the Andes, relying on the tent I built for shelter against the extreme elements, with the hope that in several weeks time I would be standing on the summit of Aconcagua.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.17.2012 : 1732 / Location: Aconcagua, AR

tent completed

The tent is complete with 17 hours to spare before departure to South America (Aconcagua). Time to eat, sleep and prepare for the next phase of work to be done.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.11.2012 : 2102 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

inner tent complete

The inner tent was completed February 9. This was a large hurdle in the work and now I am moving quickly into the completion of the fly, and then into final waterproofing sealants and touch ups.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.9.2012 : 1743 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

the art of sewing

Over the past few weeks sewing has become a major mode of the fabrication process. The methodology for working has allowed for a blend between the digital and analog. It has not been a linear process, but an integrated one that incorporates highly articulated digital modeling software and analog means for construction using hand measurements and adjustments. Sewing is at the forefront of the hands on process, where it enables a high sense of craft and deliberate control over each piece of material. Every stitch has its own ability to generate the fabric form of the tent.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.8.2012 : 0904 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

test fitting the fly

The initial test fit of the fly (which covers the inner tent) was successful. The proper fitting confirms that the double curvature was calculated correctly. Next step is to complete the inner tent, attach it to the base, and then complete the fly. Flight leaves at 3pm on Sunday Feb. 12, so no time to waste.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.9.2012 : 1238 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

shifting to full scale

Shifting to full scale requires careful consideration for tolerances, especially with regards to the sewing offset for the ripstop nylon fabric. Currently the base with the reinforcements is complete, and now beginning to work on the inner tent construction.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.6.2012 : 2204 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

when the dust settles

The test has informed the next iteration of design about several modifications that need to be implemented. This includes widening the rear cross member, creating areas of ventilation on the top middle panel near the rear, inserting vents along the lower corner panels for exhaust ventilation, and change in seam length. These changes are being integrated into the final design and fabrication which is already under construction for the February 12 departure to Aconcagua where it will be tested in extreme conditions for 24 days.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.2.2012 : 1302 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

wind tunnel testing

Aconcagua is known for its extreme winds, and therefore a wind tunnel test was imperative to simulate these conditions and understand the accountability of the structure. The tent was able to sustain wind speeds ranging from 60-80 mph before minor tears occurred. The last test of the day challenged the efficacy of the design with wind speeds up to 122 mph which put the tent in complete failure, blowing out the back door and tearing apart both sides.

The video below records the last test of the day. The numbers being read off are referencing air velocity in feet per minute to an engineer that is reading back the wind speed in miles per hour. This is a rough cut, and the final video will be posted in late march


Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Video Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.2.2012 : 1158 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

wind tunnel preparation

To ensure that the wind tunnel produces accurate testing results, the preparation is critical. The initial phase of preparation involves working with Aerospace engineers place bolts into model which secure it to the tunnel, and then review various tests that are going to be run so that the results desired are tested.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Photographed (lf /rt): Andrew McCarthy, Chris Chartier, Nate Anderson / Date: 2.2.2012 : 1241 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

pole fabrication submitted

The pole design for this tent requires pre-bent rods creating curvature that can match with the digital model. This will enable the fabric to respond accurately, and with tension when it is set into the structure. The pole design was generated by the space required for interior movement of my body. Vertical height is given when sitting up is required and slope occurs near the feet. This creates an aerodynamic nose to orient into the high speed winds on Aconcagua.

Drawing Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.29.2012 : 1014 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

nearly complete scaled prototype

The first design prototype (1/2″ = 1′ 0″ scale) is nearly 90% complete. The final touches will include guy line tension cords and stakes that will keep the fabric taught, and assist in keeping the tent rigid in high winds and extreme weather conditions. This is the model that will be tested in the Aerospace engineering wind tunnels on Thursday Feb. 2. A little work left to do and it will be ready for testing.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Photographed: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 2.1.2012 : 2358 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

testing the efficacy of the digital

The use of digital modeling software and scripting to create accurate double curvature needs to constantly be reviewed and tested with regards to the fabrication and material constraints. These are conversations that occur daily, enabling the project to continue its fast track pace, and see fruition in the next week.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Photographed (lf /rt): Prof. Shaun Jackson, Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.30.2012 : 1506 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

the power of the zund knife cutter

Working late into the night to study the double curvature in digital software and then cut out the fabric (zund knife cutter) for the final 1/2 scale prototype model that will be tested in the wind tunnel Thursday Feb. 2 at speeds up to 90 mph.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Photographed (lf /rt): Nate Anderson, Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.29.2012 : 0522 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

taking measurements

The design for the tent is generated from the scale and movement of my body, area of my pack, and size of my boots. The first step was to take simple measurements, and this was a revision of those measurements to ensure the proper interior dimensions before submitting poles for fabrication.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy /Photographed: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.26.2012 : 2241 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI


Calculating what is absolutely necessary to bring on a high altitude expedition is one of the first steps to designing the interior perimeter.

Drawing Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.25.2012 : 1732 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

1/2″ = 1′-0″ study model

A study model was created to test the tolerances required for the fabric, and accuracy of the digital modeling software in relationship to capabilities of the fabrication equipment (Zund Knife Cutter).

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.24.2012 : 1532 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

methodology for fabrication

Developing a methodology for design and fabrication is imperative to the process of actualizing. Actualizing for this project is the ability to transform a scalar or digital model into a full scale object or space. At the moment I am using a CNC router and Zund knife cutter to construct models that allow me to test the double curvature and sewing tolerances required for the main body of the tent. The next step will be a full scale prototype before moving into final production.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.23.2012 : 1532 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

locating a site

Where a project is cited no longer relies on an exploration of the landscape, or an attempt to redefine the coordinates of the places we deem hospitable. Architecture exists in a world dominated by the definitive mapping of site. We rely on buildings to house our lifestyles, and construct ubiquitous environments for people to live in.

Architecture did not always exist in this way. A portion of mankind once relied on non-permanent buildings, caves, windscreens, huts, tents, bivouacs, yurts, and igloos, coupled with a design strategy that was derived from portability, lightness, and flexibility; defining the essence of shelter. Perhaps this is the barest form in which architecture can exist.

The Andes are considered the longest mountain range on earth, and they have the ability to consistently produce extreme and erratic climate conditions. Aconcagua sits 22,841 ft. (6,962 m) above sea level, making it the highest mountain in the Andes and Western Hemisphere; determining it a pinnacle site to work with extreme climates. In five weeks, I am traveling to Aconcagua to live in these conditions, and use the tent that I have built as my shelter and means of survival. For me this is a practice that demands the architect’s inhabitation and design accountability, in an attempt to formulate a relationship with the spaces we create and places we declare sited.

Photo Source: Robert Castillo / Date: 1.6.2012 : 1802 / Location: Mt Aconcagua

mapping population density

Mapping generated from GIS software that shows population density using 2007 census. It is interesting to note the proximity of population density to the worlds mountain ranges. Specific analysis is most clearly shown across central Asia.

Drawing Source: Andrew McCarthy (GIS Software) / Date: 1.6.2012 : 1342 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

mapping mountains

Mapping the worlds mountains was generated using GIS software. Point source information can be speculated with extreme climates being drawn using the color ‘grey’.

Drawing Source: Andrew McCarthy (GIS Software) / Date: 1.6.2012 : 1542 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

unpacking a case study

The North Face VE-25 has been trusted in all extreme weather conditions. This exercise was to unpack, assemble, and study some of the key characteristics on the construction and fabrication of this iconic tent.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 1.8.2012 : 1622 / Location: Ann Arbor, MI

shining light on the extreme

The sun rising over the summit of Africa’s highest peak confirms that at 19,340 feet there are no inhabitants, no habitable spaces, and as anticipated, no architecture.

Photo Source: Andrew McCarthy / Date: 8.26.2010 : 0742 / Location: Mt Kilimanjaro