EPISODE 6: EARTH
Buildings made from earth are both ancient and futuristic. They are found in every corner of the world, no matter the climate, but are especially common in arid landscapes. Sometimes these buildings are big, sometimes small, sometimes long-lasting, sometimes temporary, sometimes pressed, rammed, or cast, and sometimes mixed with wood or stone, cement or steel. Earth is under all of our feet. It’s under every building. Earth as a material seems so sustainable and available, so why isn’t it more common?
Like trees, soil is extremely diverse. Since the industrial revolution, the building industry has had great difficulty accounting for nature’s extreme variation, and most often defaults to the most predictable, often synthetic, materials. To help make adoption more feasible in the contemporary built environment, designers, engineers, and material scientists are working on modernizing earthen materials and products that can account for variation and introduce new ways of making buildings using both on-site and off-site construction. Even though these new methods are shared on the Internet, are shipped internationally, and are being produced in factories and laboratories, rammed earth, poured earth, and earth blocks have their roots in our neolithic past.
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Lola Ben-Alon is an assistant professor at Columbia GSAPP, where she directs the Natural Materials Lab and the Building Science and Technology curriculum. She specializes in earth- and bio-based building materials—their life cycle, supply chains, fabrication techniques, and policy. Ben-Alon received her PhD from the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. She holds a BS in structural engineering and an MS in construction management from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. At the Technion, Ben-Alon cofounded art.espionage, the Experimental Art and Architecture Lab.
Alia Bengana is a French-Algerian architect, teacher, and journalist. For the past 12 years she has specialized in the use of regenerative materials, with a particular interest in earth and fibers. She has a parallel career as an architect in her practice in Paris, and as an instructor (EPFL in Lausanne, HEIA in Fribourg, ENSA Paris-est). She also became a consultant, accompanying teams of architects on projects around sustainable reflections on the use of resources. She wrote a series of articles called “Concrete, the end of an era?” for Heidi.news, which she is also adapting into a comic book (to be released in fall 2022).
Mario Cucinella is the founder and creative director of MCA (Mario Cucinella Architects), an international design studio based in Bologna and Milan that specializes in research-based architectural design that takes a holistic approach to sustainability issues. In 2015 he founded SOS - School of Sustainability, a post-graduate training center aimed at training professionals in the field of sustainability. In 2021 Cucinella and the studio participated in COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, with the TECLA - Technology and Clay project, the first innovative model of an eco-sustainable 3D-printed home made entirely of local raw earth.
Joelle Eyeson is the cofounder of Hive Earth Studio in Ghana, West Africa. Hive Earth Studio is a multidisciplinary space where Eyeson and her team specialize in the use of locally sourced and eco-friendly materials for use in construction, interior decor, art, and design. Eyeson is an advocate for learning from our past and how our forefathers used eco-friendly materials from the earth, and using that knowledge to continue to innovate and push boundaries with what can be achieved in Africa—and shared with the world.
Lindsey Wikstrom is the cofounding principal of Mattaforma, a design and research practice, and an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Her Core I architecture studio explores the generative potential of material sourcing, commons, and renewability, while her Advanced IV studio focuses on the architectural and urban implications of biodiverse mass timber. Her research has been supported by the SOM Foundation, published in Embodied Energy and Design: Making Architecture between Metrics and Narratives, and exhibited at the XXII Triennale di Milano, Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival. Wikstrom has a forthcoming essay in Cite and a book project with Routledge.
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This session will be led virtually through Zoom, a free video-conferencing software. Participants are encouraged to use a computer, smartphone, or tablet with a camera and Internet access, if possible. Participants may also dial in using a phone line. Participants will receive a Zoom link upon registering.
This event was made possible through a generous gift from Emilio Ambasz. The Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment is a platform for fostering dialogue, promoting conversation, and facilitating research about the relationship between the built and natural environment, with the aim of making the interaction between architecture and ecology visible and accessible to the wider public while highlighting the urgent need for an ecological recalibration.