The Institute of Material Ecologies

The mission of The Institute of Material Ecologies (T-IME) is to unite designers, craftspeople, citizens, and policy-makers to develop an in-depth understanding of the behaviors of the materials that compose our built environment and to explore the systematic connections these materials hold to environmental and political systems. T-IME provides hands-on material research and experimentation within Woodbury’s campus laboratories coupled with research into wide-reaching influence of materiality at much larger scales. T-IME hybridizes research into new technologies, craft sensibility, and an expansive interdisciplinary worldview. Affiliated T-IME faculty from multiple departments across campus lead focused research projects into the pressing issues of the contemporary urban and natural landscapes.

Materials & Fabrication Concentration 


T-IME operates under the understanding that all of the products, commodities, and building components that make up our environment have a material history and future which must not be ignored. How can we understand materials as dynamic and intelligent? How can we design technically superior building components while recognizing their connection to a larger ecology? How can we acknowledge the influence materials and products have beyond functional performance?

Domains of Research

T-IME research focuses on five interrelated aspects of design which change the way we approach materials and their role in architecture and society.


Material Behavior

T-IME exposes the dynamic nature of materials which are too often imagined to be reliably static. Although materials are known to move over time, this movement is viewed a problem—expansion joints allow for slight changes in dimension caused by changes in temperature but still attempt to “put material in its place.” Instead, T-IME seeks to develop methods of liberating dynamic materials so they might contribute to design.

Cultural Associations

An understanding of matter over time implies a knowledge of the different cultural associations attached to any material over its involvement in human history. As no artifact is distinct from its mineral or biological history, neither is it independent from the various external expectations layered upon it by human workmanship and perception. T-IME works to build a knowledge of materials that integrates both these sets of connections.

Construction Process

T-IME research develops an alternative paradigm to the assumptions of standard construction technology that focus on the assembly of independent components or products (wall, floor, bench, handle). T-IME research looks to existing traditions that point towards alternative possibilities for future models, such as the viscous fluidity of the casting process in concrete construction defies typical assumptions concerning the distinctions various architectural components.

Environmental Interconnectivity

T-IME challenges designers to imagine and visualize the overlooked network of resources connected to any component of construction. How might we design with not only immediate qualities of any particular material or product, but with the entire geological and industrial history contained in its lifecycle? This includes the natural processes involved in geographically concentrating raw materials, their extraction or harvesting from the earth, the industrial processes of forming that involve a complex set of other materials and products, the distribution of products, their labor and the energy involved in the assembly of these components into architecture.

The Post-Industrial Marketplace

T-IME works to research alternative entrepreneurial models, which may better align with a more sophisticated understanding of web of connectivity. These include open-source or intellectual commons paradigms most often associated with immaterial software coding which have now migrated to the physical marketplace through dispersed 3D printing. T-IME seeks to find alignment between a business model and the complex ecology of connections embodied in any contemporary building product.

Ongoing Research Projects

T  IME supports a number of multi-year research clusters that change according to faculty expertise. These clusters each concentrate a particular material group or material behavior.


Calibrating Viscosity

The Calibrating Viscosity seminar asked students to connect the cultural histories of ceramic traditions with their sites and systems of associated mineral extraction. This research started with an examination of a global set of centers of “material transformation” that have emerged at various yet specific points across time.


Formwork was created by architecture students in the Spring 2016 5th year studio at Woodbury School of Architecture. The work consists of a series of experiments with flexible sheet form work for concrete to create a variety of structures. It aims to discover novel aesthetic potentials of the flexible sheet form work technique and aspires to invent a design process informed by material behavior.

Ceramics and Masonry after Digital Fabrication

The 2016 Digital Ceramics studio focused on site-specific installations in and around the Architecture School’s main building and exterior spaces. Building on the work of previous studios taught at Woodbury University, the 2016 class focused on developing intricate modular systems and refined glazing treatments.

Mechanics of Mud

Exploring physics, hydrology, and the theory of mud in motion, the Mechanics of Mud examined issues of urban design and regional planning by investing ideas on the power of current, where sediment rolls along the bottom of a river, and sediment suspended in a river’s current.

Beyond The Fringe

This seminar explored how natural fibers, in the form of paper mulch, might be formed to operate both aesthetically and structurally. The projects connected studies in mold-cast technical innovation with research into the associations with textiles (in interiors and fashion).

Affiliated Faculty

Emily Bills is an educator, curator, and author with research interests in urban history and social and environmental justice. She is Participating Adjunct Professor and Coordinator of the Urban Studies Program at Woodbury University. Professor Bills received her PhD in the history of architecture and urbanism from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University and completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art. Her work on telephone infrastructure and the development of Los Angeles received a Graham Foundation Carter Manny Award Citation of Special Recognition. She’s also received fellowship and grant support from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Haynes Foundation, UCLA, and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. She’s published articles in many journals and books, including Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America; Women and Things: Gendered Material Practices, 1750-1950; Engagement Party (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles); and Visual Merchandising: The Art of Selling. Curatorial projects include exhibitions on William F. Cody, Hélène Binet, Pedro E. Guerrero, Catherine Opie, and Richard Barnes, among others.

The Making Complex is managed by Matthew Corbitt. By facilitating first-person exposure to, and experience with, making and thinking role models, Matthew aims to convey to students the perspective and skill necessary to realize their own imaginings. The technologies of the Making Complexes on both campuses are integral contributors in this enabling education. Technology here is an inclusive term; one that reinforces inter-dependencies between analog craft and shop work, computing, and rapid-prototyping processes.

Donatella was educated in 1972 at Univesita’ Mediterranea of Reggio Calabria, (Master of Architecture) and Polytechnic of Turin (Habitat and Architecture in Developing Countries). She lives and works in Los Angeles. Presently she is an Adjunct Professor at Woodbury University, School of Architecture. She is principal of design office Claret-cup and currently engaged as project manager on the project of relocation and remodel of Richard Neutra’s Maxwell House.

She is the co-founder and Board member of Elysian Valley Arts Collective a non profit organization devoted to experimental research on the revitalization of the areas adjacent to the Los Angeles River, and promoter of the annual “Forgtown Art walk”.

Her independent work includes the design of a prototype for a new school and community center in the earthquake devastated area of Kashmir in northern India: in collaboration with Kashmir Earthquake Relief and Collettiva Pulao.

Anthony Fontenot is a Professor at Woodbury University School of Architecture. He holds a professional Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Louisiana, a Master of Architecture degree from Southern California Institute of Architecture, and a Ph.D. in the history and theory of architecture at Princeton University. He was a recipient in 2009 and 2010 of the Fellowship of the Society of Woodrow Wilson Scholars at Princeton University and was awarded a Getty Fellowship for 2010-2011. He is the author of numerous publications including New Orleans Under Reconstruction: The Crisis of Planning (Verso, 2014), “Gregory Ain and Cooperative Housing in a Time of Major Crisis” in Making A Case (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012) and the forthcoming books Non-Design and the Non-Planned City (Chicago University Press, 2017) and Gregory Ain: Low-Cost Modern Housing and the Construction of a Social Landscape (UR Books, 2017). Fontenot’s interdisciplinary work has been exhibited at various venues including the Architecture Biennial in Venice, Documenta, the Netherlands Architecture Institute, the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and A + D Museum. He was a co-curator of the exhibition “Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X – 197X” (2007), and co-curator of the 2011 Gwangju Design Biennial in South Korea. Fontenot has organized many international exhibitions and symposia, including Exposing New Orleans (Princeton University, 2006), “Sustainable Dialogues” (Bangkok, Panama, Los Angeles, 2007-2008), and “Questioning the Standard: New Narratives of Art in Los Angeles” (2011) at the Getty Research Institute.

Matthew Gillis, Associate AIA, is the principal of G!LL!S, a design studio of architecture and interiors in Los Angeles and a partner at the Grant Gillis a retail and commercial architecture office. His work at G!LL!S integrates ecological research, digital design and fabrication to create sensually dense environments and experiences. While committed to buildable modern architecture with current residential projects, G!LL!S also pursues a speculative, research based architecture. Recent projects include residential additions in Hollywood and Baldwin Hills, an installation for ACADIA at the University of Cincinnati, DAAP while Grant Gillis is working on multiple retail environments throughout Southern California.

In addition to his professional practice, Matthew Gillis participates in a continuous dialogue about the discipline of architecture through teaching and stewardship in Los Angeles. His teaching has included design studios and visual studies seminars at Woodbury University, Southern California Institute of Architecture, and OTIS College of Design. While participating as Treasurer and board member of a member the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, Matthew stewarded a focus on interior urbanism through publication and promotion of emerging architects, which blur the boundaries between architecture and interior issues impacting the city and its built environments.

Prior to forming G!LL!S, Matthew worked in the offices of Coop Himmel(b)lau and Griffin Enright Architects on multiple award winning design projects and buildings. Matthew holds a Master of Architecture degree from UCLA and attended the Vicenza Institute of Architecture in Italy while receiving his Bachelor of Design in Architecture degree from the University of Florida.

Yasushi Ishida was a visiting assistant professor at the school of architecture. His research focus while at Woodbury focused on an investigation of the novel use of flexible sheet materials as formwork for concrete. In his 11 years of professional experience, Yasushi Ishida has focused on execution of geometrically complex design through the use of advanced 3d modeling computer programs. He has worked for several of award winning architectural firms such as Atelier Hitoshi Abe, Gensler, Morphosis and Michael Maltzan Architecture. He has played a significant role in the following projects: Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences Building and Mizuta Memorial Hall at Josai University (Sakado, Japan), The Broad Museum (Los Angeles), Emerson College (Los Angeles), Phare Tower (Paris, France) and Leona Drive Residence (Los Angeles). Yasushi received his Bachelor of Human Studies in Psychology from Kyoto University and his Master of Architecture from Southern California Institute of Architecture.

Heather Scott Peterson is an artist, designer, and writer. She received a BFA in Painting from the Rhode Island School of Design, and a MArch from the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Her studio practice centers around sculpture, furniture, drawing, and artifacts. In 2014 she was awarded a MacDowell Fellowship, and has been a member of the viewing program at The Drawing Center in New York since 2007. In 2009 she was awarded the juror’s choice in issue 85 of New American Paintings. She has taught fine art, design, and architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Boston Architectural Center, and Cal State Long Beach. She is currently an Associate Professor of Interior Architecture in the School of Architecture at Woodbury University.

Joshua G. Stein is the founder Radical Craft and the co-director of the Data Clay Network (www.data-clay.org), a forum for the exploration of digital techniques applied to ceramic materials. Radical Craft (www.radical-craft.com) is a Los Angeles-based studio that advances an experimental design practice saturated in history, archaeology and craft. This inquiry inflects the production of urban spaces and artifacts by evolving newly grounded approaches to the challenges posed by virtuality, velocity, and globalization. He is co-editor of Dingbat 2.0, the first-full-length publication on the iconic Los Angeles apartment building type. Stein has received numerous grants, awards, and fellowships, including multiple grants from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the AIA Upjohn research award, and the 2010-11 Rome Prize Fellowship in Architecture. He is a former member of the LA Forum Board of Directors and has taught at the California College of the Arts, Cornell University, SCI-Arc, and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

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