From Field to Form: An Introduction to Building with Plants and Earth

Six leading architects and researchers discuss the possibilities and implications of designing with plant- and earth-based materials.

February 15, 2023
7:00 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.

Plant- and earth-based materials present an opportunity to reinvent what and how we build. From biogenic materials like straw, hemp, and bamboo to geogenic materials like mud and stone, the translation of renewable resources into building materials presents both design opportunities and logistical challenges.

These materials can significantly reduce buildings’ embodied carbon while eliminating the toxicity of petrochemical products. More generally, they hold the potential to expand the agency of architecture from field to form and back again.

The inaugural event of this series gathers six leading architects and researchers to discuss where we are now and what might be next for these long-overlooked materials.

The program will begin with a presentation by David J. Lewis, Paul Lewis, and Marc Tsurumaki on the architectural implications of biogenic and geogenic materials. Following their presentation, Lola Ben-Alon, Mae-ling Lokko, and Jonsara Ruth will each offer reflections on their own materials research. The program will conclude with a roundtable discussion and audience Q&A. 

David J. Lewis, Paul Lewis, and Marc Tsurumaki are the founding principals of LTL Architects. They are the authors of the recently released Manual of Biogenic House Sections, as well as Manual of Section and Manual of Physical Distancing

David J. Lewis is a professor of architecture and the dean of The School of Constructed Environments at Parsons School of Design. 

Paul Lewis is a professor of architecture at Princeton University and a former president of The Architectural League of New York. 

Marc Tsurumaki is an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) and is the current president of Storefront for Art and Architecture.

Lola Ben-Alon is an assistant professor at Columbia GSAPP, where she directs the Natural Materials Lab and the Building Technology curriculum. She specializes in earth- and bio-based building materials, their life cycles, supply chains, fabrication techniques, and policy. Her work has been exhibited at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale, Tel-Aviv Museum of Art, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and published in Building and Environment, Journal of Green Building, and Automation in Construction.

Mae-ling Lokko is an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Architecture and Yale’s Center for Ecosystems in Architecture. She is the founder of Willow Technologies, Ltd., a sustainable materials and building technology company based in Accra, Ghana. Through her work, Lokko explores the potential of agro-waste, bio-based materials, and new models of production.

Jonsara Ruth is co-founder and design director of Healthy Materials Lab (HML) at Parsons School of Design, where she is an associate professor and the founding director of the MFA Interior Design program. At HML, Ruth brings creative leadership to the goal of improving the health of people and the planet through design and material practices. Ruth is a principal of Salty Labs, a collaborative studio experimenting with the design of interiors and furniture to create healthier environments.


This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.