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Natural Materials Lab


The Natural Materials Lab promotes equitable design using natural, readily available, low-carbon, non-toxic, and uncalcinated building materials.

Our research and teaching craft new ways to understand and imagine socially equitable and environmentally sustainable futures, by fostering connections across the arts, humanities, and engineering.

Mission

The Lab’s mission is to investigate the following lines of inquiry:

  • Advance innovative research on the intersection of natural materials, energy simulations, social equity, occupants’ health, speculative design, and construction methods.

  • Create new material mixtures using traditional practices while re-employing earth building science advancements.

  • Invent critical technologies to integrate natural and living materials into innovative architecture by developing advanced fabrication through both digital 3D printing and highly manual crafting techniques.

  • Develop environmental and social LCA (ELCA & SLCA) tools that address global urgencies and enumerate impacts such as carbon and energy, health and wellbeing, local employment, circular economy, community engagement, and access to resources.

Opportunities
Applications are currently being accepted for a Postdoctoral Researcher starting in January 2023 for 3D-printed earth and bio-based materials. Candidates are invited to learn more about this position and apply via GSAPP Gateway, Columbia GSAPP’s Career Services Platform.

Research

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Catalyzing the use of low-carbon and community-engaging building materials through systematic LCAs
Image sequence of Earth Pendulum, achieving complex parametric forms through analog means with natural materials
Achieving complex parametric forms through analog means with natural materials
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The Environmental Impacts of Thermal Experience
Image sequence of Earthen Mud Skins, integrating earth as a wearable substance, built directly onto one’s body
Integrating earth as a wearable substance, built directly onto one’s body
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Using biophilic design to promote recovery, health, and comfort in healthcare environments
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Grounded Chairs is a 100% organic biodegradable low-carbon seating system.
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Advancing Eco-friendly Materials through Building Policy and Education
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Advancing the science and geometry of 3D printed earth
Image sequence of Laminated Earth, reconciling architectural representations of housing while drawing from land art practices of raw soils and synthetic matter.
Reconciling architectural representations of housing while drawing from land art practices

Teaching

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Introducing architectural design responses for energy, climate, and comfort
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A project-based seminar that provides both theoretical and hands-on building experience
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Understanding and managing embodied and operational energy through Life Cycle Assessments (LCA)
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Prototyping and experimenting with materials to learn how the act of making forms an integral par...
Image sequence of Common Ground, a workshop collaboratively building rammed earth walls comprised of the collection of soils of participants
Collaboratively building rammed earth walls comprised of the collection of soils of participants

Who We Are

The Natural Materials Lab is directed by Lola Ben-Alon, Assistant Professor and Sequence Director of the Building Science and Technology curriculum at GSAPP.

Current Team

Tashania Audrey Akemah, M.Arch ‘24
Zina Berrada, M.Arch '23
Zackary Eugene Bryson, M.Arch '24
Andrew Chee, M.Arch '24
Penmai Chongtoua, MA. Climate and Society '22
Sarah Hejazin, MS.AAD '21
Bisher Tabaa, M.Arch '23

Past Researchers

Saba Ardeshiri, M.Arch ‘23
Jennah Christina Jones, M.Arch '23
Mariami Maghlakelidze, MS.AAD '21
Reem Makkawi, M.Arch '22

Recent News

May 7, 2021
"Edible [EAT ME] Brick," an installation from the Natural Materials Lab, to be commissioned at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale 2022
The installation, developed in collaboration with Dr. Sharon Yavo Ayalon, will be exhibited September – October 2022, at the Estonia Museum of Architecture.
Show More

Natural Buildings: Integrating Earthen Building
Materials and Methods Into Mainstream Construction

A Lecture by Lola Ben-Alon

October 12, 2020

View the event listing here.

GSAPP Conversations:
Natural Materials Mini Series with Lola Ben-Alon

Over the Fall 2020 semester, Assistant Professor Lola Ben-Alon hosted a mini-series on natural and living building materials as part of the GSAPP Conversations podcast. The Natural Materials mini-series consists of conversations with designers, builders, and product developers of clay, bamboo, fibers, and bacterial concrete. Natural materials are defined as minimally processed, readily available, nontoxic, healthy, and engaging materials. They are critically needed to reduce carbon emissions and extractive harmful impact associated with conventional building materials.