Material Worlds is an online discussion series that gathers together experts and scholars who transcend the typical boundaries of expertise to posit new viewpoints on the equitable and resilient sourcing of building materials, not only to envision the future, but also to better understand the past and present of humanity’s impact on the nonhuman world. This series aims to promote sustained discussion about the impact of the building sector, examine new research in both academia and the industry, and establish a vocabulary of ecological architecture, all in the hope of engaging the newest generation of architects to reassess the discipline in the face of urgent change.
Opening Remarks Carson Chan, Director, Emilio Ambasz Institute for the Joint Study of the Built and the Natural Environment
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.
Episode 11: Silica Signals
As you read this message, light is traveling through millions of miles of silica strands at 186,000 miles per second, transferring data from a server to your eyes. Like the movement of information on the Internet, the storage of information is also physical. One email can produce 0.3 grams of carbon emissions (or equivalent), while one bitcoin transaction can produce 402 kilograms of carbon emissions (or equivalent)—a transaction 20,000 times more resource-intensive than using a credit card. Like microwaves or radio waves, things that are seemingly invisible can often have incredible material effects, especially in the context of a warming planet. Discussions about sustainability are most often centered on physical resources, but what about informational and communication resources? What kind of fuel is our digital infrastructure supported by? When all digital media has a carbon footprint greater than the aviation industry, should we fly to meet people rather than using Zoom, Facetime, or DMs? To reduce our global greenhouse gasses, should there be limits on digital transactions or their carbon footprints? As the world warms, how will the culture of immediate information, communication, entertainment, and consumption transform or be transformed by the built environment?
Anne Pasek is an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Media, Culture and the Environment at Trent University. She studies how carbon is communicated and contested within different social formations, including climate denialism, the tech sector, and the arts. She also directs the Low-Carbon Research Methods Group and the Experimental Methods and Media Lab.
Nicole Starosielski is an associate professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University. She is an author or co-editor of over 30 articles and five books on media, infrastructure, and environments, including The Undersea Network (2015), Media Hot and Cold (2021), Signal Traffic: Critical Studies of Media Infrastructure (2015), Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment (2016), and Assembly Codes: The Logistics of Media (2021), and she is co-editor of the Elements series at Duke University Press. Starosielski’s most recent project involves working with the subsea cable industry, which lays the transnational links of the Internet, to make digital infrastructures more sustainable.
Mark Wigley is a professor of architecture at Columbia University. He is a historian, theorist, and critic who explores the intersection of architecture, art, philosophy, culture, and technology. His books include Konrad Wachsmann’s Television: Post-Architectural Transmissions, Passing through Architecture: The 10 Years of Gordon Matta-Clark, Cutting Matta-Clark: The Anarchitecture Investigation, Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design (with Beatriz Colomina), Buckminster Fuller Inc.: Architecture in the Age of Radio, Casa da Música / Porto, Constant’s New Babylon: The Hyper-Architecture of Desire, White Walls, Designer Dresses: The Fashioning of Modern Architecture, and Derrida’s Haunt: The Architecture of Deconstruction. He has curated exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art, the Drawing Center, Columbia University, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Het Nieuwe Instituut, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and the Power Station of Art. He was the co-curator of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial in 2016 and, most recently, Passing Through Architecture: The 10 Years of Gordon Matta-Clark at the Power Station of Art, Shanghai (2019–20).
Episode 10: Liquid Particles
January 12, 2023, 6:00 PM ET
Right this moment, trillions of microorganisms are living inside you, outnumbering your human cells 10 to one. Microorganisms live on your skin, in your gut, and up your nose. They float around in the air, surfing on dust or droplets, sometimes flowing through our bodies disguised as water or food, altering our chemistry. The built environment, constant host to human and nonhuman bodies, is designed to alter these nearly invisible flows through filtering, channeling, and storing. This system is especially sensitive to polluting particles, but not everybody is protected from these invisible flows; built environments often divert toxins away from some people and toward others, at great expense. Toxicologists and environmental activists have used the term “body burden” to describe the presence of harmful substances in bodies, especially in locations of extreme exposure. An accumulation of toxic particles in bodies has generated debates about the origins of genetic diseases, life expectancy, and so-called gender transgressions, to name a few. The tiny particles of both nutrients and toxins must flow somewhere eventually—and as they travel in discriminatory directions, the human and nonhuman body becomes a digester of the built environment.
Akshita Sivakumar is a designer and social scientist who produces work under the moniker moredustings. Her current research examines how computational technologies mediate environmental governance and justice. She traces how various social groups shape toxicity through the material, social, and discursive control and governance of emissions. Her work draws on post/decolonial and feminist science and technology studies (STS), urban political ecology, and communication studies. She is a PhD candidate in communication and science studies at University of California, San Diego, where she is completing her dissertation (“Model Governance, Model Justice: Social Infrastructures in Urban Environments”), and she is a visiting assistant professor at the University of New Mexico.
Lydia Kallipoliti is an architect, engineer, and scholar whose research focuses on the intersections of architecture, technology, and environmental politics. She is an associate professor at the Cooper Union in New York. Kallipoliti is the author of The Architecture of Closed Worlds, Or, What Is the Power of Shit (2018) and the “History of Ecological Design” entry for the Oxford English Encyclopedia of Environmental Science (2018), and she is editor of the 2010 “EcoRedux” issue of Architectural Design. Her work has been published and exhibited widely, including the Venice Biennial, the Istanbul Design Biennial, the Shenzhen Biennial, the Oslo Architecture Triennale, the Onassis Cultural Center, the Lisbon Triennale, the Royal Academy of British Architects, the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, and the London Design Museum. She is the principal of ANAcycle research think tank, which was named a leading innovator in sustainable design in Build’s 2019 and 2020 awards, and she is head co-curator of the 2022 Tallinn Architecture Biennale. Kallipoliti holds a diploma in architecture and engineering from AUTh in Greece, a master of science (SMArchS) from MIT, and a PhD from Princeton University.
Ryo Morimoto is a first-generation college student and scholar from Japan. As an assistant professor of anthropology and the Richard Stockton Bicentennial Preceptor at Princeton University, his scholarly work addresses the planetary impacts of our past and present engagements with nuclear things. His forthcoming book Nuclear Ghost: Atomic Livelihoods in Fukushima’s Gray Zone is one of the first ethnographic monographs of post-fallout coastal Fukushima. With a group of Princeton Native students, he initiates the Nuclear Princeton project, which explores links between Princeton’s past and ongoing engagements with nuclear science and technology and their under-acknowledged impacts on Indigenous communities and lands.
Episode 9: Water Futures
December 1, 2022, 12:00 PM ET
In December 2020, for the first time, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange allowed investors to trade water as a commodity on the stock market. Water has been officially commodified, a move that challenges the notion that all life should have free access to it. This inorganic, transparent, tasteless, odorless substance has historically transported nutrients, bacteria, toxins, ships, plants, and people in nearly frictionless ways across vast expanses. It flows across the surface of the Earth and through our bodies, is absorbed by soil, evaporated by the sun, captured by pressure as clouds, and filtered through territories as rain and rivers, all while carving the built environment like a canyon. In towns and cities established on the basis of frictionless trade, almost half of the population of Earth still lives near the coast, where the level of water is rising as the polar ice caps melt. Is it possible or probable to reduce the risks of living at the edge of a body of water? How are stories about life within the water cycle laying the foundation for a system of equitable and reparative health? Was water ever really free?
Dele Adeyemo is an architect, artist, and critical urban theorist. His creative practice, research, and pedagogy interrogate the underlying racial drivers in the production of space. Dele is completing his PhD at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the recipient of the JAE Fellowship, the CCA-Mellon Fellowship, and Het Nieuwe Instituut’s Research Fellowship. Adeyemo’s projects have been presented internationally, including the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale, the 5th Istanbul Design Biennial, and the 2nd Edition of the Lagos Biennial. He currently teaches an architecture design studio at the Royal College of Art, London.
Mario Gooden is a cultural-practice architect and director of Mario Gooden Studio / Architecture + Design. His work crosses the thresholds between the design of architecture and the built environment, writing, research, and performance. Gooden is also the director of the Masters of Architecture Program at the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) of Columbia University and a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, a MacDowell Fellow, and the recipient of the 2019 National Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Architecture. Gooden is the author of Dark Space: Architecture Representation Black Identity (2016) and numerous essays and articles on architecture, art, and cultural production.
Rianne Makkink is a designer-architect and the cofounder of the design office Studio Makkink & Bey. The studio’s many projects range from interior design, product design, public space projects, architecture, and exhibition and shop-window design to research and applied-arts projects. Since 2012 the Studio has run its own initiated project, Waterschool, which was recognized by the Dutch Design Awards in 2022. Makkink has been teaching at several universities and academies within the field of architecture and design, namely the University of Ghent (BE), the Art Academy Linz (AT), the Design Academy Eindhoven and Arnhem (NL), and the Technical University Delft (NL).
Feifei Zhou is an architect, artist, and researcher. She was a guest researcher at Aarhus University Research on the Anthropocene (AURA), during which she co-edited the digital publication Feral Atlas: The More-than-Human Anthropocene (2020). Her research and design work explores spatial, cultural, and ecological impacts of the industrialized built and natural environment. Using narrative-based spatial analysis, she collaborates intensively with social scientists to translate empirical observations and scientific research into visual representations that aim to both clarify intricate more-than-human relations and open new questions. She is currently a visiting critic at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University.
Episode 8: Photosynthetics
October 10, 2022, 12:00 PM ET
The discovery of photosynthesis, the process through which plants transform sunlight into oxygen and sugar, was credited to a scientist 223 years ago, but has been part of everyday life for a billion years. Photosynthesis on earth means livability. Over time, the work of tiny chloroplast machines lodged in the cells of plants, along with the fungi that transform dead plants into nutrients, fundamentally altered the atmosphere and the soil, making the planet hospitable to animals and humans. Plants have evolved to utilize the sun in super-efficient and life-giving ways, and designers are now asking how humans can use the power of plants in more innovative ways to improve our built environment. How might plant-based cities transform the way we live, work, eat, sleep, and take care of our spaces?
For thousands of years before industrialization, our global built environments were plant-based, constructed with straw and wood. But rather than return to small-scale construction, today we face a new challenge: How can tall, dense settlements become more plant-based? Already, modern life relies heavily on trees for paper and packaging, but is this the best use of plants? One example shows that the wood fiber in the packaging used by 400 people over one year is equivalent to the amount that could build an 18-story mass-timber tower and provide housing for those 400 people. The way people design certain plant species and fungi into the built environment has the potential to once again fundamentally shift Earth’s atmosphere, increasing biodiversity and enriching soil. What might life look like as our mineral-based lives become biodegradable?
Jan Jongert graduated as an architect at the Academy of Architecture Rotterdam in 2003 and cofounded Superuse in 1997. He designs spaces and develops strategies to facilitate the transition to a responsible society via projects that empower local exchange and production. Creating an alternative to transporting and wasting our resources, products, and components around the globe, he specializes in the behavior of flows in interior, industrial, and urban environments. His work emphasizes shortcutting and interconnecting flows as a means to create new value and support for communities that take responsibility over their environment.
Pascal Leboucq is a designer and scenographer. He was classically trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and specialized in public space at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. Besides his work for New Heroes, Leboucq develops his own projects and works as a freelance scenographer for different theater companies. At New Heroes, Pascal creates urban art installations and cross-disciplinary scenographies.
Mae-ling Lokko is an architectural scientist, designer, and educator from Ghana and the Philippines who works with agro-waste and renewable, bio-based materials. Through her work, Lokko explores themes of “generative justice” through the development of new models of distributed production and intersectoral collaboration. She is an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Architecture and the founder of Willow Technologies, which focuses on research, design, and development of bio-based building materials. Her recent projects have been exhibited in UAE, Belgium, Netherlands, the UK, and Italy. Lokko holds a PhD and a master’s degree from the Center of Architecture, Science and Ecology, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and BA from Tufts University.
Egija Inzule is curator and director of NAC of Vilnius Academy of Arts in Nida, Lithuania. In order to respond to the hybrid character of NAC that includes running a residency programme, organising Nida Doctoral School for PhD and DA fellows, curating the arts programme and artists’ commissions, hosting students’ seminars and managing the general premises of NAC, Inzule works on developing processes and initiate long-term productions that emerge from a historical, geopolitical and sociopolitical analysis and reflection of the Curonian Spit with a focus on the agency of NAC in this context. Inzule has worked as curator in the teams of castillo/corrales, Paris; Istituto Svizzero di Roma; and Shedhalle, Zurich. She is currently based between Zurich and Nida.
Episode 7: Solar
September 8, 2022, 2:00 PM ET
The sun is the central factor governing existence on planet Earth. Solar rays have helped guide the way human beings navigate their environment, their soil, and their habitat. It is the ultimate source of energy; the sunlight that hits the Earth’s surface in a single hour provides more energy than the global population consumes in one year. While the sun is mostly a free energy source, the ability to store energy has emerged as one of the challenges of our time. Today, batteries require the continued extraction of lithium, cobalt, and other minerals, but battery technology is evolving toward more efficient forms of storage. An improved ability to harness solar energy will transform civilization as a form of decarbonization. Forms of generating energy with solar design reach back to ancient times and far beyond battery power. How will designers and communities tap into this diverse history and continue to critically engage with solar rays as a generative material in the built environment?
Alice Wong is a story designer and a specialist tutor at MA Information Design of Design Academy Eindhoven. She focuses on translating complex information into comprehensive, sharable storytelling. Her research is rooted in understanding how our perception of reality is shaped, prompting the question: Who told you so? Her principal topic of interest is the intersection of biographical documentary, media, and social phenomena. Currently, she is undertaking a 12-month work placement at Atelier Luma with the artistic director Jan Boelen, under the support of HKYDTA.
Amor Muñoz is a member of the National System of Art Creators in Mexico. She has been a resident at the Bauhaus Dessau (Germany) and at the Google Arts and Culture–Jacquard Artist Residency (Paris). Her work has been exhibited in various museums, galleries, and festivals, including 21 Haus, Belvedere (Austria); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; MUAC Museum (Mexico); Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (Hong Kong); National Art Center, Tokyo; G Museum Nanjing; Prix Ars Electronica (Austria); Havana Biennial; and Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade, among others.
John Perlin collaborated with Nobel Laureates Dr. Walter Kohn and Dr. Alan Heeger on the film The Power of the Sun: The History of the Evolution of the Science of Light and Photovoltaics. He led a symposium at University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2018 on Eunice Foote, who in 1856 discovered the phenomenon of global warming. Perlin is the author of A Golden Thread: 2,500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology, A Forest Journey: The Story of Wood and Civilization, From Space to Earth: The Story of Solar Electricity, and Let It Shine: The 6,000 Year Story of Solar Energy.
Marjan van Aubel is co-initiator of the Solar Movement and the Solar Biennale. She is an award-winning solar designer who brings solar energy into daily life, designing for a positive future through combining the fields of sustainability, design, and technology. She is creating lasting change through solar design, integrating solar power seamlessly into buildings and objects, with the goal of making solar power more accessible for everyone. Among her most notable works are Sunne, Current Table, Power Plant, and the roof of the Netherlands Pavilion at the World Expo 2020 in Dubai. She has collaborated with global brands such as Cos, Timberland, and Swarovski, with the aim of accelerating the global energy transition to solar.
Neel Tamhane is the Solar Strategy Lead at SPACE10, IKEA’s global research and design lab. In this role, Tamhane leads research and design explorations to identify opportunities for how democratization and decentralization of clean energy can bridge the gap between people with limited means and empower people in urban areas to make the energy transition, by taking power into their own hands. Tamhane previously led product development at SOLshare, a novel localized energy-trading platform in Bangladesh, building decentralized solar-powered grids bottom-up.
Pauline van Dongen is the cofounder of the Solar Movement and the Solar Biennale. As a designer and researcher, she explores human-garment relationships and alternative fashion (design) practices through the development of smart textiles and clothing. Her design studio received international recognition with projects such as the Solar Shirt, Phototrope, and Issho. Projects such as these enhance the sensory and emotional experience of clothing and reveal the nurturing potential of textiles. Van Dongen has pioneered with creating solar garments and textiles since 2013. Her studio is currently developing Suntex, an architectural textile with woven flexible solar cells.
Peter Niessen is a designer based in Utrecht. In 1993 he graduated as a fashion designer at the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (HKU), after which he started his career in theater costume design and production for dance performances, plays, and operas. In 2001 Niessen joined Inside Outside to work on the design of large-scale curtains in projects such as OMA’s Casa da Musica Porto, Hackney Empire Theatre (Tim Ronalds) in London, and the Toledo Glass Centre (SANAA). His knowledge of and experience with different kinds of fabrics and textile techniques are key to articulating the finesses and technical details of Inside Outside’s curtain installations. With his curiosity and experimental attitude, he often pushes the boundaries of textiles by developing custom details and production techniques.
Matylda Krzykowski has an independent practice in which she plans, designs, writes, and talks about digital and physical space. Since 2021 Krzykowski has been artistic lead of CIVIC, new exhibition space and social infrastructure project at Academy of Fine Art and Design Basel. She writes the built-environment column Things Might for Arts and the Working Class magazine and is advisor at the Jan van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. Recently, Krzykowski co-curated Institution Building at CIVA Brussels and Total Space at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, and she developed the online TV show Airtime – What Is Wanted? for the Swiss Consulate General in New York. Krzykowski is curator of The Energy Show at Het Nieuwe Instituut Rotterdam.
Organized in collaboration with the Het Nieuwe Instituut around the exhibition The Energy Show and The Solar Biennale.
Episode 6: Earth
May 17, 2022, 4:00 PM ET
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.
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.
Episode 5: Concrete
April 15, 2022, 5:00 PM ET
Concrete is the one of the most consumed materials on earth, second only to water. We pour so much that it’s like adding a concrete Mount Everest to the Earth every couple of years. This anthropic rock’s utility and unmatched liquidity has long enabled dense cities, a characteristic of human occupation that is essential to living sustainably. However, concrete remains one of the most polluting materials in existence. Although concrete buildings and bridges reinforced with steel may make life easier and faster, the two materials together account for more carbon emissions than all car and plane emissions combined.
While concrete is the biggest consumer of freshwater on the planet, it also requires vast amounts of sand, extracted from beaches, riverbeds, and the sea floor; an activity wreaking havoc on ecosystems and causing violent territorial disputes. Plus, concrete might be deteriorating much faster than we thought. But, concrete is also considered an essential resource for infrastructure-resilience projects in regions facing extreme weather, climate migration, and rising sea levels. With this need in mind, is it possible to think of the material as being sustainable or equitable?
Is it even possible or responsible to imagine an end to concrete?
Lucia Allais is an architectural historian and critic who writes about the relation of architecture, politics, and technology in the modern period and on the global stage. Her first book was Designs of Destruction: The Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century, and her most recent article is a critical history of the carbonation equation for reinforced concrete, co-authored with Forrest Meggers. Allais is an associate professor at Columbia University, where she also directs the Buell Center. She is a member of Aggregate, and an editor of the journal Grey Room.
Elise Berodier is an engineer and scientist who campaigns for a transdisciplinary approach to developing sustainable concrete. She has been working in the field for over 10 years, in both urbanized and urbanizing countries. Her expertise ranges from the chemistry of cement to optimizing concrete production and repairing concrete structures, and she has developed projects investigating the actual context of concrete construction through the lenses of material science, knowledge management, economics, and building practices. She had worked with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Haiti, and is the founder of Béton Désarmant, a forum highlighting women using concrete in multiple fields.
Kiran Pereira is the author of the book Sand Stories: Surprising Truths about the Global Sand Crisis and the Quest for Sustainable Solutions and the founder of sandstories.org. She works as a social entrepreneur to find and promote solutions to the global sand crisis. Her work has been featured in the award-winning documentary Sand Wars and in media such as the Economist, BBC Radio5, Al Jazeera, Financial Times, ZDF Magazin Royale, and CNBC digital, among others. She lives in London.
Episode 4: Plastic
March 26, 2022, 11:00 AM ET
Plastic has enabled an era of hygienic environments, single-use consumption and a resulting accumulation of wealth, new advances in medicine and food preservation, global logistics, and increasing energy efficiency. But was it worth it? In half a century, over nine billion tons of plastic have been produced—16 times the weight of the global population today. If plastic were a country, it would be the fifth highest greenhouse gas contributor in the world, accounting for around 5% of all emissions. And the speed of plastic production and consumption is only increasing. Plastic will undeniably impact the health of living systems for generations. So how should the built environment respond? How might design help break down, reduce or eliminate the use of plastics? How might new scalable forms of reuse applications and technology along with plant-based plastics and polymer-eating bacteria turn the page?
Join us for an online discussion as part of Material Worlds, a series that gathers experts and scholars to present fresh viewpoints on the sourcing of building materials, not only to envision the future but also to better understand the past and present of humanity’s impact on the nonhuman world.
Heather Davis is a writer, researcher, and teacher whose work draws on feminist and queer theory to examine ecology, materiality, and contemporary art in the context of settler colonialism. She is an assistant professor of culture and media at the New School. Her most recent book, Plastic Matter (2022), re-examines materiality in light of plastic’s saturation. Davis is also a member of the Synthetic Collective, an interdisciplinary team of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists who investigate and make visible plastic pollution in the Great Lakes.
Nzambi Matee is a scientist, inventor, engineer, entrepreneur, and change maker. She pursued a major in physics at the Jomo Kenya University of Agriculture and Technology, where she obtained relevant foundational training in material science. Matee founded Gjenge Makers, a community-oriented organization created to address the need for sustainable and affordable alternative construction materials in Kenya and the Continent by using recycled plastics to produce paving blocks, paving tiles, and manhole covers. To date, Gjenge Makers has recycled more than 40 tons of plastic and created more than 130 job opportunities in the community.
Miranda Wang is a venture-backed climate tech entrepreneur who is building an innovative plastic-transformation company. She is the cofounder and CEO of Novoloop, a low-carbon advanced recycling and sustainable materials provider that upgrades common plastic waste into performance materials. Miranda is a Forbes 30 Under 30, a UN Young Champion of the Earth, and a Pritzker Environmental “Genius” Awardee. Outside of her day job, Wang lives in San José, California, with her husband Robert. She is an avid gardener with a keen interest in landscaping and nature. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
Episode 3: Carbon
March 1, 2022, 6:30 PM ET
Carbon is essential to life. It is the foundation of nearly 10 million different compounds, the second most abundant element in the human body, and the fourth most abundant element in the universe. As a fundamental building block, carbon makes the built environment possible. Yet carbon simultaneously makes the built environment a threat—as an invisible byproduct of life. The built environment contributes around half of the carbon emissions globally. Buildings, especially when they are mineral-based, have tremendous potential in acting as carbon sinks.
In the last few months, Climeworks opened the world’s largest “direct air capture and storage” plant, sucking carbon out of the air and turning it into underground rock; the EU announced a plan to remove five million tons of CO₂ by 2030; and the US launched “Earthshot” to remove billions of tons of CO₂ from the air, which was followed up by an infrastructure bill allocating $3.5 billion to build four carbon-sucking machines.
Carbon capture, carbon sinks, and carbon markets are transforming the way we might see our planet, our future, and our relationships with each other and with other living things for the foreseeable future. How will carbon as a material continue to reshape the world? How might the material flows, energy, and forms of our built environment adjust to these new interpretations of carbon?
Join us for an online discussion as part of Material Worlds, a new series that gathers experts and scholars to present fresh viewpoints on the sourcing of building materials, not only to envision the future but also to better understand the past and present of humanity’s impact on the nonhuman world.
Holly Jean Buck is a geographer and environmental social scientist who is currently an assistant professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University at Buffalo. She is the author of the books After Geoengineering: Climate Tragedy, Repair and Restoration, which explores best-case scenarios for carbon dioxide removal, and Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero Is Not Enough, about how to approach fossil fuel phaseout. She holds a PhD in development sociology from Cornell University.
Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran is the Global Energy & Climate Innovation Editor of The Economist and host of its podcast on climate change, To a Lesser Degree. His editorial responsibilities range from business and finance to technology and innovation, and he has produced numerous cover stories and won awards for his reporting. He is also the author of three well-received books on sustainability and innovation, as well as an accomplished public speaker. The Financial Times has declared him to be “a writer to whom it is worth paying attention.”
Robert Niven is the founder, CEO, and chair of CarbonCure Technologies, the global leader in carbon dioxide (CO₂) removal technologies for the concrete industry, with over 500 sites worldwide. Niven founded the company in 2012 with a mission to save 500 million metric tons of CO₂ emissions annually by 2030. CarbonCure is the past recipient of the Carbon XPRIZE, Cleantech Group’s North American company of the year, and BloombergNEF New Energy Pioneer. Niven lives in Victoria, BC, and spends his spare time with his family, pursuing outdoor adventure sports and supporting nature conservation, homelessness, and cleantech entrepreneurship initiatives.
Episode 2: Waste
February 10, 2022, 4:30 PM ET
You may have heard the idiom “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The difference between trash and treasure is dissolving quickly as we hurtle toward a mass extinction event. Now, more than ever before, it is our professional obligation to value all matter as much as possible.
The volume of construction and demolition debris headed for landfills continues to increase. Waste is not only polluting our planet in general, it also continues to risk the health of marginalized communities that suffer exponentially greater amounts of exposure.
Both creativity and vision are needed to move away from wasteful and exploitative production practices that don’t emphasize reuse. How can waste be valued as a resource for both design and production? Designing with circularity in mind involves new ways of sourcing materials, generating architectural narratives, and embracing new aesthetics. Leading designers have been on the quest to beautify waste as part of material circularity, and this requires re-examining systems of production, starting with the design process. From sourcing agricultural byproducts to urban mining or designing for deconstruction, what kinds of cultural and economic shifts in the built environment might normalize waste as a primary material?
Join us for an online discussion as part of Material Worlds, a new series that gathers experts and scholars to present fresh viewpoints on the sourcing of building materials, not only to envision the future but also to better understand the past and present of humanity’s impact on the nonhuman world.
Tara Gbolade is co-founder of Gbolade Design Studio and a RIBAJ Rising Star winner. Tara is an Architect and Passivhaus Designer, and as such sits on the steering group of Architects Declare: a network committed to addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency. Her expertise in sustainable design and planning policy saw her lead the Harlow & Gilston Garden Town Sustainability Strategy. Tara is a founding member of the Paradigm Network: a professional network championing Black and Asian representation in the built environment; and she advises local authorities on the quality of major planning applications in London through Design Review Panels.
Alison Mears is the Director of the Healthy Materials Lab, Mears leverages her knowledge and experience as a long-term academic leader and her practice-based experience as an architect to confront one of the more serious and often overlooked environmental challenges of our time: the health of the built environment. She is also co-Principal Investigator of the Healthy Affordable Materials Project (HAMP). The Project is a long-term coalition of four organizations who work together to remove harmful chemicals from the built environment. Her work draws from the long tradition at The New School University’s commitment to promoting community-based sustainability, social engagement, and environmental justice.
Laurens Bekemans is an architect and co-founder of Brussels-based BC architects & studies—an architectural practice and non-profit research entity and materials laboratory—and most recently, BC materials—an urban mining company that repurposes excavated earth from construction sites. BC is BC architects, studies and materials. BC stands for Brussels Cooperation and points to how BC grew – embedded within place and people. Started in 2012 as a hybrid office, BC is manoeuvring the boundaries of architecture in a doers manner. With three different legal entities, the team engages in a variety of experimental projects through which it designs bioregional and circular architecture, researches educational and construction processes and produces new building materials using local waste streams such as excavated earth.
Episode 1: Mass Timber
December 14, 2021, 4:30 PM ET
Wood construction is ancient, and surprisingly more relevant than ever before. The United Nations predicts that nearly one Manhattan worth of floor area will be built every two weeks globally over the next 40 years (GlobalABC, IEA, and UNEP 2018). Since the built environment is responsible for almost half of global carbon emissions, it is essential that we redesign what these cities are made of.
Mass timber laminates small pieces of wood into scalable structural elements that have strength comparable to concrete and steel, enabling urban density, a key component in a low-carbon way of life. It has the potential to be more renewable and carbon-sequestering than any other structural material in existence. But questions remain. Who has access to healthy building materials like this? Are there enough trees to build the mass-timber cities of the future? Is mass timber fireproof? Will mass timber improve or reduce deforestation and biodiversity? And, ultimately, how might the built environment reflect a new type of relationship between people and nature?
Anyeley Hallová is an equity- and sustainability-focused real estate developer with over 17 years of experience, from mixed-use developments to office headquarters for nonprofits. She started Adre in Portland, Oregon, in 2020 to focus on real estate projects that seek to create wealth for the Black community and for other underrepresented groups that traditionally lack access to real estate ownership and investment. Prior to Adre, she was a partner with project for 12 years, focusing on student housing, market-rate housing, residences, and office projects. Her civic work includes a governor appointment to Oregon’s Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) and board membership at the US Green Building Council.
Chandra Robinson is a principal at LEVER Architecture, a design practice recognized for material innovation and pioneering work with mass timber construction. Her projects encompass affordable housing, libraries, and other transformative buildings that advance social and climate justice. Robinson recently completed a campus for the equity-based foundation Meyer Memorial Trust. The Meyer headquarters is one of the first buildings made using mass plywood panels, and she implemented wood-sourcing criteria for the project that supported responsible forest practices and economic opportunity for rural communities, tribal enterprises, and businesses owned by women and people of color. In addition to her civic design work, Robinson is a member of the Portland Design Commission; a founding board member and treasurer of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA), Portland chapter; and a member of the advisory board of Hip Hop Architecture Camp.
François Dufresne, President, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) a recognized leader in the forestry sector, Dufresne has been president of FSC Canada since 2012. He holds a forestry engineering degree from Laval University and an MBA from York University. In his duties at SGF (Société générale de financement du Québec), he played a leading role in sustainable development initiatives relating to major expenditures in forest management, forest certification, and the First Nations of Canada. Through its contribution and vision, FSC Canada continues to exert its influence and leadership in the forest certification industry, promoting higher standards for responsible management of Canadian forests.
Dr. Peggi Clouston, Structural Engineer and Researcher, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Clouston is a professor of wood mechanics and timber engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She has been working in the field of structural timber design for over 30 years. With over 80 publications, her research focuses on the development and structural analysis of advanced bio-based composites made from sustainable resources. She teaches courses in material mechanics, bio-based laminates, and structural timber design to architects, engineers, and building technologists. She is also associate editor of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering and has been a registered professional engineer (EGBC) since 1992.
Automated captioning is available for all online programs. American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation and live captioning is available for public programs upon request with two weeks’ advance notice. MoMA will make every effort to provide accommodation for requests made with less than two weeks’ notice. For accessibility questions or accommodation requests please email [email protected] or call (212) 708-9781.
This series 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.