Event Date: 
10.22.20 to 10.23.20

Rethinking Concrete: Material Conventions in the Anthropocene

Posted By: 

Rethinking Concrete: Material Conventions in the Anthropocene
Organized by Forrest Meggers and Lucia Allais

October 22nd & 23rd, 2020, 9am – 2pm

Stream on: Facebook Live*


Rethinking Concrete: Material Conventions in the Anthropocene, an interdisciplinary conference organized by Forrest Meggers and Lucia Allais, will discuss new approaches to the lifespan, material dynamics, cultural history, and design potential of reinforced concrete. Once conceived as a quintessentially modernist material, a “liquid stone” that announced the arrival of an eternal present, reinforced concrete is in fact a highly dynamic technological system, subject to inevitable failure through carbonation and other processes. Speakers will problematize the material conventions embedded in reinforced concrete, and expose its role as a complex agent of the anthropocene. 


Conversations and presentations among speakers from architecture, engineering, material science, conservation, and design will include Daniel Abramson, Sigrid Adriaenssens, Ueli Angst, Dorit Aviv, Lola Ben-Alon, Erin Besler, Philippe Block, Brandon Clifford, Aude-Line Dulière, Branko Glisic, Jing Liu, Tsz Yan Ng, John Ochsendorf, Evan Oskierko-Jeznacki, Antoine Picon, Sarah Nichols, Elisabeth Marie-Victoire, and Claire White.


Support provided by the Council on Science and Technology and the Metropolis Project at Princeton University.





Lucia Allais and Forrest Meggers

9:30a PANEL 1 | HISTORY 

John Ochsendorf—Professor, Department of Architecture and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Sarah Nichols—Assistant Professor of Architecture, Rice University

Daniel Abramson—Professor, History of Art & Architecture, Boston University


Elisabeth Marie-Victoire—Head of Concrete Department, Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historiques, Service à compétence nationale du Ministère de la culture, Paris


Ueli Angst—Assistant Professor, ETH Zurich

Evan Oskierko-JeznackiPhD Fellow & Research Associate, Center for Environmental Building + Design / Center for Architectural Conservation, Weitzman School of Design, University of Pennsylvania; Historical Architect for the National Park Service Vanishing Treasures Program

Branko Glisic—Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University





Lucia Allais and Forrest Meggers


Philippe Block—Professor, Institute of Technology in Architecture, ETH Zurich


Sigrid Adriaenssens—Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Director, Program in Mechanics, Materials and Structures, Princeton University

Brandon Clifford—Director, Matter Design; Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Claire White—Associate Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Princeton University

Tsz Yan Ng (Tn)—Assistant Professor, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan

11:40a PANEL 2 (with Roundtable) | DESIGN

Antoine Picon—G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Architect’s Roundtable with:

Aude-Line Dulière—Architect; Tutor, AA (London) 


Lola Ben-Alon—Assistant Professor at Columbia GSAPP

Erin Besler—Co-founder, Besler & Sons; Assistant Professor at Princeton University School of Architecture


Jing Liu—Principal, SO-IL; Visiting Faculty at Princeton University School of Architecture


Moderated by Dorit Aviv—Assistant Professor of Architecture at University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design


Moderated by Lucia Allais and Forrest Meggers





Lucia Allais—Associate Professor, Columbia GSAPP—is a historian of architecture in the modern period. Her main interest lies in architecture’s role as a technical practice in the rise of international global culture, over the course of the long 20th Century. Her first book, Designs of Destruction: the Making of Monuments in the Twentieth Century (Chicago, 2018) chronicles how the “international monument” was invented from the 1930s to the 1960s by international groups and institutions who worked to protect buildings from the massive destructions of war, modernism, and modernization. Allais also writes about contemporary design, about media of architectural representation, and the intellectual history of architecture. She has received a number of awards and fellowships for this work. 


Allais received her BSE from Princeton, her M.Arch from Harvard, and her PhD from MIT. She is Associate Professor of Architecture at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, a member of the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, and an editor of the journal Grey Room. Before joining Columbia, she spent 10 years at Princeton, first as a Behrman-Cotsen Fellow in the Society of Fellows, then as an Assistant Professor, and later Associate Professor, in the School of Architecture.



Forrest MeggersAssistant Professor, Architecture; Assistant Professor, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environmentfounded and directs CHAOS (Cooling and Heating for Architecturally Optimized systems) Lab where he and his research team investigate alternative thermal paradigms to engage architecture and maximize performance. He has several patents and founded the spinoff Hearth Labs to develop his SMART sensor technology to improve thermostats. He has degrees from Mechanical Engineering (BSE), Environmental Engineering (MS), and Architecture (Dr sc.). His fields of knowledge include building systems design and integration; sustainable systems; renewable energy; radiant systems, desiccants, exergy analysis; geothermal; seasonal energy storage; building materials; thermodynamics and heat transfer; and heat pumps. He received his PhD in the Dept. of Architecture at the ETH Zurich. Originally a native of Iowa, Forrest worked on many sustainability projects at the University of Iowa, and worked with Jim Hansen, renowned climatologist at Columbia University and director of NASA GISS, as a Researcher on US Building Stock CO2 emissions.





John Ochsendorf is the Class of 1942 Professor of Architecture and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His research in structures has been supported by grants from the MacArthur Foundation, the Fulbright Scholar Program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Science Foundation, among others. Ochsendorf served as the Director of the American Academy in Rome from 2017-2020.



Sarah Nichols is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at Rice University. Her work focuses on building materials, particularly concrete, with the aim of reframing the context and impact of architectural practice. She is currently working on a history of concrete in Switzerland that untangles the systemic relations between the development and production of the material and its widespread architectural use.



Daniel M. Abramson is professor of architectural history and director of architectural studies at Boston University. His research focuses upon matters of economics, society, and architecture from the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. He is the author of three monographs, most recently Obsolescence: An Architectural History, as well as being co-editor of the forthcoming Evidence, Narrative, and Writing Architectural History, his second volume with the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative of which he is a founding director. Other current work relates to postwar American government architecture.





Elisabeth Marie-Victoire achieved Materials Sciences Engineer and Materials Chemistry PhD degrees from Orsay and Jussieu French Universities. After three years working for Cercle des Partenaires du Patrimoine (CPP) as research engineer, she joined the Laboratory of Research on historical monuments (LRMH) in 1997, a national public service linked to the Architecture and Heritage department of the French Ministry of Culture (MC). She first integrated the metal department and in 2004, she created  the concrete department that she is now heading for 16 years. Her fields of expertise are identification, diagnosis, conservation and restoration of historic concrete. She is providing field diagnosis and conservation advice for French listed concrete buildings and she is developing with her team research on three main topics: ancient cement identification, corrosion and moisture diagnosis tools, and conservation treatments. She has been a member of the French CNRS USR-3224 since 2012. She teaches art historians, conservators and material science masters, but also architects. She is a member of the CAB’s commission of the French Cefracor and she is an expert member of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Twentieth Century Heritage.



Ueli Angst obtained degrees in civil engineering from ETH Zurich in Switzerland (MSc) and from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, NTNU, in Trondheim, Norway (PhD, 2011). From 2011 to 2016, Angst held a part-time position as Postdoc at the Institute for Building Materials at ETH Zurich, and simultaneously I held a part-time position as a corrosion consultant at the Swiss Society for Corrosion Protection, which is the leading agency in the field of corrosion in Switzerland. Angst’s combined professional experience as a scientist and consultant gave many opportunities to see the relevant problems in engineering and to identify the related scientific questions that need to be addressed. Since January 2017, Angst has been an assistant professor at ETH Zurich, establishing their research group using experimental and computational methods covering corrosion science, electrochemistry, materials science, porous media and reactive mass transport, and civil engineering. We are committed to provide mechanistic insight into corrosion mechanisms and its effects on structural behavior, develop methods and sensors for monitoring purposes, robot-assisted inspection methods, and corrosion mitigation strategies.



Evan Oskierko-Jeznacki is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design, where he completed both a MS. in Historic Preservation and a Master of Environmental Building Design in 2016. During his time there he was a research associate at the Center for Architectural Conservation and Center for Environmental Building and Design. His dissertation research includes modeling and validating the thermal behavior of traditional Mongolian Ger to improve indoor thermal comfort, reduce energy consumption and improve indoor air quality; an evidence-based risk assessment and monitoring protocol for climate sensitive historic structures at Fort Union Natl. Mon.; an environmental diagnostic survey and monitoring methodology for the ruins at Tuzigoot Natl. Mon. and the petrified wooden stumps at Florissant Fossil Beds Natl. Mon.; and the use of passive embedded RFID technology as a low-cost, minimally-destructive moisture monitoring technique. Evan continues to pursue and apply these research interests as the Historical Architect for the National Park Service Vanishing Treasures Program in Santa Fe, New Mexico.



Branko Glisic is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University, USA. His main areas of interest are SHM methods, advanced sensory systems, smart structures, SHM data management, and sustainable engineering. He was previously employed at SMARTEC SA, Switzerland, where he was involved in research and engineering in numerous structural health monitoring projects. 






Dr. Philippe Block is Full Professor at the Institute of Technology in Architecture at ETH Zurich, where he directs the Block Research Group (BRG) together with Dr. Tom Van Mele. Philippe is also the Director of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Digital Fabrication. Philippe studied architecture and structural engineering at the VUB in Belgium and MIT in the USA. Following the motto “strength through geometry”, the BRG applies research into practice on the design and engineering of novel shell structures, developing computational structural design strategies utilising digital fabrication and pushing construction innovation to address the grand challenges posed by climate change. See https://block.arch.ethz.ch/. 



Sigrid Adriaenssens’ research focuses on lightweight surface systems and how they can be optimized and realised to interact with extreme structural or environmental loading. This includes research on flexible and rigid shells and plates, submerged flexible membranes and nets, and metamaterials with applications for a resilient urban environment. Her research spans analytical approaches to study non-linear mechanics, seeking new numerical form finding, optimization and machine-learning approaches and fluid-interaction models as well as experimental aspects based on prototyping of small and medium scale systems using CAD/CAM and robotic construction. 



Brandon Clifford is a time-traveler who develops creative approaches to the world’s most pressing problems. He identifies contemporary blind-spots by mining ancient knowledge that holds resonance with topics of today. He is best known for bringing megalithic sculptures to life to perform tasks. Brandon is the director of Matter Design and an associate professor at MIT. Brandon received his Master of Architecture from Princeton University and his Bachelor of Science in Architecture from Georgia Tech. As a designer and researcher, Clifford has received recognition with prizes such as the American Academy in Rome Prize, a TED Fellowship, the SOM Prize, and the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects & Designers. Clifford is dedicated to re-imagining the role of the architect. His speculative work continues to provoke new directions for the digital era. 



Claire White is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. White’s research focuses on understanding and optimizing engineering and environmental materials, including sustainable cements and materials for carbon capture, utilization and storage. Professor White is the recipient of a number of awards including an NSF CAREER Award, the RILEM Gustavo Colonnetti Medal, and the Howard B. Wentz Jr. Junior Faculty Award.



Tsz Yan Ng’s material-based research and design primarily focus on experimental concrete forming (hard) and textile manipulation (soft), oftentimes in direct exchange and incorporating contemporary technologies to develop novel designs for building and manufacturing. A common thread to her work investigates questions of labor in various facets and forms – underscoring broader issues of industrial manufacturing innovation, of human labor, crafting, and aesthetics. She’s the principal of an independent architecture and art practice with built works in the US and China. Her practice, collaborative in nature and interdisciplinary in scope, ranges in scale from textile manufacturing facilities to commercial retail interiors and installations. Ng’s work has been exhibited widely and featured in books, journals, and magazines. She recently received an Architect Magazine R+D Award for Robotic Needle Felting, an AIA Upjohn Research Initiative Grant to explore concrete 3D printing, and a New Researcher Award from ARCC. She joined Taubman College, University of Michigan as the Walter B. Sanders Fellow (2007-2008) and is currently an Assistant Professor. She was also the Reyner Banham Fellow at the University of Buffalo from 2001-2002. Her co-edited book Twisted was released in 2018 and was co-editor for the JAE theme issue Work (2019). 



OCT 23 | PANEL 2 - DESIGN w/ Roundtable


Antoine Picon is trained as an engineer, architect, and historian, and author of numerous books and articles on the relationship between science and technology, on the one hand; and architecture and technology, on the other hand. Selected books include: French Architects and Engineers in the Age of the Enlightenment (1992), L’Invention de l’Ingénieur Moderne (1992), Les Saint-Simoniens: Raison, Imaginaire et Utopie (2002), and Architecture and the Sciences: Exchanging Metaphors (2003). His recent publications, which deal with the impact of digital culture on architecture and the city, include: Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions (2010), Ornament: The Politics of Architecture and Subjectivity (2013), and Smart Cities: A Spatialised Intelligence (2015). 



Dorit Aviv is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design where she directs the Thermal Architecture Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory focused on the intersection of thermodynamics, architectural design, and material science. Her work examines how architectural materials and forms can impact airflows, energy interactions and human health. Current research projects include a distributed environmental sensing network, radiant cooling prototypes, an evaporative cooling chimney for desert climate, and air-quality improvement methods for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. 



Lola Ben-Alon is an Assistant Professor at Columbia GSAPP. She specializes in socially and environmentally sustainable building practices and natural clay- and bio-based building materials. She received her B.S. in Structural Engineering and M.S. in Construction Management at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. Her work has been published in Building and Environment, Journal of Green Building, Woodhead Publishing Series in Civil and Structural Engineering, and Automation in Construction. Ben-Alon serves on the editorial board of Elsevier’s Renewable & Sustainable Energy Reviews, and she is the academic advisor of the TERRA Collaborative, an all-women organization that provides hands-on building training for women and youth.



Erin Besler is an Assistant Professor at Princeton University School of Architecture and co-founder of Besler & Sons, a studio that designs buildings, software, objects, exhibitions, and interiors. Their work is characterized by a particular interest in construction technologies, social media, and other online platforms for producing and sharing content where digital interactions rely less on expertise and more on ubiquity. They are a recipient of the Architectural League of New York Young Architects Prize and a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Erin received a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University and a Master of Architecture with Distinction from the Southern California Institute of Architecture, where they were awarded the AIA Henry Adams Medal. Prior to founding their own practice, Erin worked in the offices of Tigerman McCurry Architects and VOA Associates in Chicago, and First Office and Zago Architecture in Los Angeles. Erin was previously an Assistant Adjunct Professor at UCLA in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design, where they were awarded the 2013-2014 AUD Teaching Fellowship.



Aude-Line Duliere is an architect. She holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and also studied in Brussels at Sint-Lucas (KU Leuven). She worked at David Chipperfield Architects between 2010-15 and since 2016 has been part of the development team at Rotor Deconstruction in Brussels. She is the recipient of the 2018 Wheelwright Prize with a research project that focuses on material reuse, assembly and disassembly across the building and the movie industry. She now teaches a Diploma Unit and an Environmental Technical course at the Architectural Association in London.



Jing Liu is a principal of SO-IL and has been practicing for more than 15 years working on a wide range of projects both in the US and abroad. Through building practice and interdisciplinary research projects, Liu has led SO–IL in the engagement with the socio-political issues of contemporary cities — in projects like the Artists Loft North Omaha and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Cleveland. Her projects range from artistic collaborations with contemporary choreographers and visual artists to master plan and major public realm design in cities like Melbourne and Indianapolis. Liu leads all of her projects from concept to realization, and considers carefully all aspects of design and construction. She believes strongly that design should and can be accessible to all, and that architecture offers us an open platform to nurture new forms of interaction. To that end, Liu sees community engagement and collaboration across disciplines central to her role as the design lead.



The School of Architecture, Princeton University, is registered with the AIA Continuing Education (AIA/CE) and is committed to developing quality learning activities in accordance with the AIA/CE criteria. Members of the AIA can log credits for this event by completing this form.


The lecture recording will be available on the SoA Vimeo channel following the event.


* Princeton SoA community will receive an email to register via Zoom.