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After Concrete: Redefining Materials and Energy in the Anthropocene

Fri, May 7, 2021    9am

After Concrete: Redefining Materials and Energy in the Anthropocene

For over a hundred years, reinforced concrete has served as a paradigm of wonderous materiality: natural yet human-made, liquid yet permanent, technically specialized yet easy to use. But this myth is beginning to crack physically and conceptually.

As part of a multi-year research project, co-directed by Lucia Allais (Columbia GSAPP) and Forrest Meggers (Princeton), this event asked participants to rethink concrete historically and technically. Scholars, engineers and designers were invited to move the conversation from material dynamics to system dynamics, and from materials to energy and environment, by offering insights into sometimes obscure system processes–such as the carbonation of concrete. The goal is to situate not only concrete but all architectural materials into variously-scaled processes that are inherent in climate change, resource extraction, infrastructural development, energy policy, state planning, and ecological science and advocacy.

Presentations by On Barak, Lola Ben Alon, David Benjamin, Nimrod BenZeev, Felix Heisel, Ateya Khorakiwala, Gabriel Lee, Reinhold Martin, Kiel Moe, Sophia Roosth, and Dan Steingart.

Introduction by organizers Associate Professor Lucia Allais, Columbia GSAPP and Forrest Meggers, Assistant Professor of Architecture, Princeton University.
Panel One: Scholars
9:15 AM

Scholars of the building and natural sciences and industries presented ongoing research on how environmental, economic, and techno-scientific agents affect the relationship between materials and energy. We interrogated the architectural scale, in order to rethink the vitalist idea of “building life”, the formal concept of buildings as objects, the relation of progressivism with large-scale building, among other themes.

Nimrod BenZeev, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Polonsky Academy, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute
Gabriel Lee, Cassius Marcellus Clay Fellow, Department of History, Yale University
Ateya Khorakiwala, Assistant Professor, Columbia GSAPP
Sophia Roosth, Cullman Fellow, New York Public Library

Panel Two: Technologists
11:00 AM

Scholars presented an array of technical advances in materials and energy, which critically transform the understanding of how system dynamics play out, spanning vast domains and areas of expertise. We debated the role of academic research in the dissemination of new knowledge through research, narratives, and practice, and how we leverage those across domains to generate substantive interventions and actions, in order to change broad societal perceptions.

Kiel Moe, Gerald Sheff Chair in Architecture, McGill University
Lola Ben Alon, Assistant Professor, Columbia GSAPP
David Benjamin, Associate Professor, Columbia GSAPP
Felix Heisel, Assistant Professor, Cornell AAP
Dan Steingart, Co-director of Columbia Electrochemical Energy Center; Stanley-Thompson Associate Professor of Chemical Metallurgy, Chemical Engineering, Columbia University

1:00 PM

On Barak, Associate Professor, Department of Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University

On Barak and presenters from previous panels joined in conversation by Reinhold Martin for the final discussion.