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Farm to Building

This design/build installation, located at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Campus in Palisades, New York, confronts the conditions of architectural materials by studying terrestrial processes of material extraction, raw earthen construction, and human labor.

Design disciplines are today entangled by both determination and determinism stemming from the scale and severity of the environmental destruction caused by our professions, and concurrent appeals for ecological transformation requested of them. Structures of raw earth, built without cement or synthetic stabilizers, have the potential to minimize embodied fuel and carbon emissions from chemical, industrial, and thermal processing.

Indeed, raw earth construction mixtures, often mixed with crop by-products and living additives to gain structural integrity, can be adapted to local geophysical and thermal environments. This adaptation may be termed Farm to Building: a holistic interrogation of environmental, social, and economic sustainability of a building process, not merely a building product. This analysis reveals earthen building processes — contemporary versions of ancient knowledge — to be promising components of climate-friendly design that require further exploration and demonstration.

By implementing Farm to Building materials and techniques, this project catalyzes the following inquiries: How might we rethink the act of building by not only consciously confronting ecological extraction and the capabilities of human labor, but by designing the means to ameliorate harmful effects of these metabolic flows? In doing so, can we see buildings and their construction materials not as static assemblages, frozen in time, but as unending flows of matter and energy?

The installation was erected as part of an immersive design-build workshop with GSAPP students, who designed, detailed, documented, and constructed the installation using raw, un-stabilized earthen construction techniques at the entrance to the Geoscience Building at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory campus. As a collaborative hands-on workshop, students experienced unmediated construction practices that employed a range of textures, constituencies, and plasticities within rammed earth construction techniques. Students also investigated the locality of Farm to Building supply possibilities, material origins, routes, and procurement, as a function of site-specific urban metabolism within the Hudson Valley and its working waterfront. This documentation helped generate critical questions about the flows of materials, equipment, and people as well as the consequences for labor practices and environmental parameters.