Lola Ben-Alon of The Natural Materials Lab

The Natural Materials Lab | The [EAT ME BUILD ME] Project, 2022 Tallinn Architecture Biennale, Tallinn, Estonia, 2022. Image credit: Tõnu Tunnel

Established in 1981, the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects + Designers is a juried portfolio competition for early-career practitioners in North America, organized around a yearly theme.

Lola Ben-Alon of the Natural Materials Lab won a 2024 award.

The Natural Materials Lab, founded and directed by Lola Ben-Alon, investigates raw, earth, and fiber-based building materials across scales, from fabrication research and design/build projects to policy investigations and installations. The Lab, located at Columbia University GSAPP, unites experimental research with Ben-Alon’s teaching practice.. Integrating emergent technologies with historical techniques, the Natural Materials Lab leverages material experimentation to “imagine and invent socially equitable and ecologically sustainable futures,” in the studio’s own words. 

Recent projects include:

  • Farm to Building, a sculptural passageway and gathering space at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory built with rammed earth and erosion protocols 
  • Raw Earth Sgraffito, with Lynette Widder, an installation that applies the sgraffito ornamentation technique to raw soil and agricultural byproducts to represent material trade routes 
  • The [EAT ME BUILD ME] Brick, an experimental installation that explores the intertwined histories and geographies of building with and eating earth.

Lola Ben-Alon holds a bachelor of science and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering from Technion Israel Institute of Technology, as well as a PhD in Architecture–Engineering–Construction Management from Carnegie Mellon University.  

Ben-Alon has been the lead project investigator for multiple National Science Foundation-awarded projects and publishes widely on natural materials and building techniques. She is an assistant professor at Columbia University GSAPP and teaches within Columbia University’s Climate School.

The Natural Materials Lab has been invited to create installations globally, including at COP28 in Dubai and the 1014 Space for Ideas in New York City. The Lab and Ben-Alon have been profiled in Metropolis and Lifo’s “The Green Issue.”