The Institute of Material Ecologies

T  IME’s mission is to unite designers, craftspeople, citizens, and policy-makers to develop an in-depth understanding of the behaviors and connectivity of the materials that compose our built environment and to recognize 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 remote study and excursions to situate small-scale studies into much larger contexts. T-IME hybridizes technical research with a craft sensibility with the goal of making larger material systems apprehensible in daily life.

 

Purpose

The Institute of Material Ecologies 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. A sea change has occurred in design and planning based on a new intense mediation of our material context.

“The Institute of Material Ecologies aims to be an innovator in integrating a research lab model with an outreach model to advocate for a comprehensive world view and ethos grounded in some of the most pressing current issues. ”


— Dr. Marc J. Neveu, Associate Dean

Domains of Research

What distinguishes T  IME research is the nature of the research. This is categorized into five interrelated categories, all of which are addressed (to various degrees) within any research initiative.

 

Material Behavior

T  IME exposes the dynamic nature of materials which are too often imagined to be reliably static. Currently, materials are understood to move over time, but this movement is understood to be exceptional and problematic. Expansion joints allow for slight changes in dimension caused by changes in temperature. Every precaution is taken to mitigate the awkward complications caused by material movement.

Cultural Associations

An understanding of materials 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 internal material history, neither is it independent from the various external expectations layered upon it by human use 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 practice of construction technology focused on the assembly of independent components or products (wall, floor, bench, handle). The research looks to existing traditions that point towards alternative possibilities for future models. The viscous fluidity of the casting process in concrete construction defies typical assumptions concerning the distinctions various architectural components.

Environmental Interconnectivity

The concept of embodied energy represents an acknowledgement of not only qualities of any particular material or product, but the entire geological and industrial history contained in its entire lifecycle. This includes the natural processes involved in consolidation or geographically concentrating raw materials, their extraction or harvesting from the earth, the industrial processes of forming that almost always involve a complex set of other materials and products, the distribution of products, their labor and energy involved in the assembly of these components into architecture,

The Post-Industrial Marketplace

Recognizing that the current model for the construction of our built environment is dependent upon the free flow of industrialized products in a marketplace, T  IME works to research other entrepreneurial models which may better align with a more sophisticated understanding of web of connectivity. These entrepreneurial models may 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

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.