From Field to Form: Making with Earth

Moderated by Lola Ben-Alon, a group of practitioners discuss using earthen materials in building.

April 28, 2023
6:30 p.m.

From Field to Form is a series of events exploring the possibilities, life cycles, and architectural implications of plant- and earth-based materials.

Earthen materials are ubiquitous, affordable, and low-carbon. 

Structures built with raw earth and no cement or synthetic stabilizers have the potential to minimize embodied energy and climate-change impacts. Earthen building processes—contemporary versions of ancient knowledge—are promising components of climate-friendly design that require further exploration and demonstration. 

Organized by Lola Ben-Alon of Columbia University GSAPP’s Natural Materials Lab with the support of 1014 and The Architectural League, this program gathers design practitioners, educators, policy advocates, and material scientists to explore the possibilities of earthen materials. 

The panel will discuss natural earth- and fiber-based building materials, their manual and digitally-driven fabrication, life cycles, and supply chains, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of using earthen materials in construction, renovation, and mass/insulation. 

The discussion will take place in connection with the exhibition Making with Earth, produced by the Columbia University GSAPP Making with Earth class at the Natural Materials Lab. 

Lola Ben-Alon is an assistant professor at Columbia University GSAPP, where she directs the Natural Materials Lab and the Building Technology curriculum. She specializes in earth- and bio-based building materials. Ben-Alon received her PhD from the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. Her work has been exhibited at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Israel Museum, and published in Building and Environment, Journal of Green Building, and Automation in Construction

Lisa Morey is an engineer and architectural designer who owns and operates Colorado Earth, a company that produces adobe and earth blocks. She is the author of Adobe Homes for all Climates and an advocate for natural building materials. 

Ronald Rael is a designer, activist, architect, and author whose research interests connect indigenous and traditional material practices to contemporary technologies and issues. He is the Eva Li Memorial Chair in Architecture at the University of California Berkeley and chair of Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice. He directs the printFARM Laboratory (print Facility for Architecture, Research and Materials) and is the author of Earth Architecture, a history of building with earth in the modern era. 

Tommy Schaperkotter is an architect, builder, and educator devoted to trans-disciplinary exploration of material cultures, construction ecologies, and interdependencies between built and non-built environments. He is an adjunct assistant professor in the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at Cooper Union and he also teaches at Columbia University GSAPP. 

Lynnette Widder is an architect, architectural historian, and educator whose work currently focuses on low-carbon renovations of modernist buildings and a grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop textile-reinforced raw-earth structures for the Sahel region. She is an associate professor of practice in sustainability management at Columbia University.

This program is co-sponsored by 1014, Columbia University GSAPP, and the German Center for Research and Innovation (DWIH).