Matter Design Computation: The Art of Building From Nano To Macro

fabric structure lit from within set outside at dusk
Pavilion by Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart, one of several in a series of research pavilions. photo / © ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart; Professor Achim Menges
close up of the opening ends of stacked white ceramic vessels
Work by Emerging Objects. photo / provided
three pillared grey sculpture
Work by Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich. photo / provided
inflated white objects being held by a person in a courtyard of a brick building
Self-Assembly Lab, MIT + Autodesk Inc. photo / provided
My Thread Pavilion
Jenny Sabin Studio Photo Credit: Courtesy Nike Inc.
metal sculpture
Murmur, by Heather Roberge. photo / provided
beige and white pavilion of a courtyard
Pavilion by Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart, one of several in a series of research pavilions. photo / © ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart; Professor Achim Menges
welding torch lighting a brick on fire
Work by Anil Netravali. photo / provided
ceramic vessels of different sizes, textures, and shapes
Work by Emerging Objects. photo / provided
Pavilion by Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart, one of several in a series of research pavilions. photo / © ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart; Professor Achim Menges Work by Emerging Objects. photo / provided Work by Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich. photo / provided Self-Assembly Lab, MIT + Autodesk Inc. photo / provided Jenny Sabin Studio Photo Credit: Courtesy Nike Inc. Murmur, by Heather Roberge. photo / provided Pavilion by Institute for Computational Design (ICD) and the Institute of Building Structures and Structural Design (ITKE) of the University of Stuttgart, one of several in a series of research pavilions. photo / © ICD/ITKE University of Stuttgart; Professor Achim Menges Work by Anil Netravali. photo / provided Work by Emerging Objects. photo / provided


Preston Thomas Memorial Lecture Series

The evolution of digital media in the last decade has prompted generative techniques in fabrication alongside new understandings in the organization of material through its properties and potential for assemblage. Recent advances in computation, visualization, material intelligence, and fabrication technologies have begun to alter fundamentally our theoretical understanding of general design principles as well as our practical approach towards architecture and research. This renewed interest in broadening the discipline has offered alternative methods for investigating the interrelationships of parts to their wholes, and emergent self-organized material systems at multiple scales and applications.

This symposium features pioneers who are leading this new field through rigorous multi-directional and multi-disciplinary investigations that are shaping the future trajectories of these material innovations and technologies for architecture. The symposium aims to advance materials research and digital fabrication across disciplines in order to effect pragmatic change in the economical, ecological, and cultural production of complex built forms. Participants from diverse disciplinary backgrounds investigate the intersections of architecture and science, and apply insights and theories from biology, engineering, and mathematics to the design, fabrication, and production of material structures. The main thrust of this symposium concerns the evolution, discourse, and application of material and digital fabrication processes in architecture.

The symposium is being held in conjunction with the launch of the new program, Matter Design Computation, housed within the graduate field of architecture at Cornell University. For more information, please contact the graduate programs coordinator.

The Preston H. Thomas Memorial Lecture Series is funded by a gift from Ruth and Leonard B. Thomas in memory of their son, Preston. The event is envisioned and hosted by the Cornell Department of Architecture; Jenny Sabin, Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Assistant Professor, Cornell University; Mark R. Cruvellier, architecture department chair and Nathaniel and Margaret Owings Professor of Architecture, Cornell University; Sasa Zivkovic, assistant professor of architecture, Cornell University; and Christopher Battaglia (M.Arch. '17), Cornell University.


Keynote Speakers

Matthias Kohler

headshot of Matthias Kohler Matthias Kohler is an architect with multidisciplinary interests ranging from computational design and robotic fabrication to material innovation. In 2000, in conjunction with his partner Fabio Gramazio, he founded the architecture practice Gramazio & Kohler, where numerous award-winning designs have been realized. Current projects include the design of the Empa NEST research platform, a future living and working laboratory for sustainable building construction. Also opening soon is the world's first architectural robotic laboratory at ETH Zurich. Gramazio & Kohler's research has been formative in the field of digital architecture, setting precedents and de facto creating a new research field merging advanced architectural design and additive fabrication processes through the customized use of industrial robots. This ranges from 1:1 prototype installations to the design of robotically fabricated high-rises. Kohler's recent research is outlined and theoretically framed in the book The Robotic Touch: How Robots Change Architecture (Park Books, 2014). Since 2014, Kohler has also been the director of the new National Centre of Competence in Research Digital Fabrication.

Mario Carpo

headshot of Mario CarpoMario Carpo is the Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural Theory and History at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. After studying architecture and history in Italy, Carpo was an assistant professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and in 1993 received tenure in France, where he was first assigned to the École d'Architecture de Saint-Etienne, then to the École d'Architecture de Paris-La Villette. He was the head of the study centre at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montréal from 2002 to 2006, and the Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History at the Yale School of Architecture from 2010 to 2014. Carpo's research and publications focus on the relationship among architectural theory, cultural history, and the history of media and information technology. His award-winning Architecture in the Age of Printing (MIT Press, 2001) has been translated into several languages. His most recent books are The Alphabet and the Algorithm (MIT Press, 2011), also translated into other languages; and The Digital Turn in Architecture, 1992-2012 (Wiley, 2012). His next monograph, The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence is forthcoming with the MIT Press in the fall of 2017. Carpo's recent essays and articles have been published in Log, The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Grey Room, L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui, Arquitectura Viva, AD/Architectural Design, Perspecta, Harvard Design Magazine, Cornell Journal of Architecture, Abitare, Lotus International, Domus, Artforum, and Arch+.


Boston Valley Terra cotta

headshot of Bill PottleBill Pottle joined Boston Valley Terra Cotta in 2012 in the role of international sales manager. The majority of Pottle's 21-year career has been spent in architectural sales and marketing. Prior to joining Boston Valley, Pottle spent nine years as national architectural sales manager and western USA regional manager for Rimex Metals USA. Pottle's responsibilities include managing Boston Valley's network of sales representatives, directing Boston Valley's marketing programs, organizing and directing the Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop, and representing Boston Valley at various conferences and speaking engagements. Pottle received his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1991.

Construction Robotics

Zac Podkaminer with robotic equipment Zak Podkaminer works in strategy and business development at Construction Robotics. Podkaminer first started working in the construction industry when he was 16 as a laborer during his summer breaks. After studying business management and IT at Bentley College, he spent the next seven years traveling the U.S. and Europe as an operations consultant, streamlining business processes for public and private companies. Prior to joining Construction Robotics, Podkaminer worked for the public accounting firm Grant Thornton and the financial institution Fidelity Investments. Podkaminer has held various roles at Construction Robotics, including operations management, marketing, finance, IT, and sales. He has played an instrumental role in helping Construction Robotics become a leader in robotics and automation for the construction industry.

Keith Evan Green

Keith Green Keith Evan Green is a professor of design and environmental analysis and mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University. Green investigates how the built environment can behave more like living things in response to human needs and opportunities. Employing digital technologies and particularly robotics, Green's trans-disciplinary Architectural Robotics Lab develops, prototypes, and evaluates cyber-physical environments and their components supporting and augmenting an increasingly digital society. Widely published in Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Association for Computing Machinery journals and proceedings, Green is the author of a new book, Architectural Robotics: Ecosystems of Bits, Bytes and Biology (MIT Press, 2016). With frequent support of the U.S. National Science Foundation, Green strives to realize the kinds of cyber-physical systems that cultivate interactions across people and their surroundings that define places of social, cultural, and psychological significance. A licensed architect and senior member of IEEE, Green earned his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Pennsylvania, and his M.Arch. degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Maria Paz Gutierrez

headshot of Maria Paz GuttierrezMaria Paz Gutierrez, associate professor of architecture at the University of California–Berkeley, is an architect and researcher focused on nature and multifunctional material organizations and 21st-century environmental and socioeconomic challenges. In 2008, she founded BIOMS, an interdisciplinary research initiative intersecting architecture and science to integrate principles of design and biophysics from the nano to the building scale. Her work focuses on exploring the biophysical and cultural implication of functional natural materials and agricultural waste through multiscale additive manufacturing. She is the recipient of various research grants from organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency, in the area of sustainable building systems innovation. Her research is published in prominent architectural and scientific journals including Science and Scientific Reports (Nature) and exhibited in venues such as the Field Museum, Chicago. Her recent awards include the 2014 Buckminster Fuller Award (semifinalist) and the prestigious 2010 Emerging Frontiers of Research Innovation by the NSF. Gutierrez is a Fulbright Nexus Scholar and has served as an appointed senior fellow of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas by the U.S. Department of State from 2011–16. She has two provisional patents and a forthcoming book titled Regeneration Wall (Routledge Press).

Guy Hoffman

Guy HoffmanGuy Hoffman is an assistant professor and the Mills Family Faculty Fellow Assistant Professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University. Prior to that, he was an assistant professor at IDC Herzliya and codirector of the IDC Media Innovation Lab. Hoffman holds a Ph.D. from MIT in the field of human-robot interaction. He heads the Human-Robot Collaboration and Companionship (HRC2) group, studying the algorithms, interaction schema, and designs enabling close interactions between people and personal robots in the workplace and at home. Among others, Hoffman developed the world's first human-robot joint theater performance and the first real-time improvising human-robot Jazz duet. His research papers won several top academic awards, including Best Paper awards at Human-Robot Interaction and other robotics conferences in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2013, and 2015. In both 2010 and 2012, he was selected as one of Israel's most promising researchers under 40. His TEDx talk is one of the most viewed online talks on robotics, watched more than 2.8 million times.

Peter Lloyd Jones

Peter Llyod JonesPeter Lloyd Jones is a scientist and hybrid innovator whose work has uncovered fundamental mechanisms in human development and disease. Jones actively seeks and finds new solutions to complex problems via unconventional collaborations between diverse fields, including mathematics, chemistry, biocomputation, genetics, fashion, industrial, textile, and architectural design. Following completion of his Ph.D. in cancer stem cell biology in 1991 at Cambridge University, Jones conducted post-doctoral fellowships in architectural biology at University of California–Berkeley, and at the University of Toronto. In 2005, he became a tenured associate professor of pathology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he formed an award-winning, National Institutes of Health–funded lab studying architectural biology in the breast and lung at the Institute for Medicine and Engineering. In 2006, he cofounded Sabin+Jones LabStudio, a revolutionary experiment between biomedicine and architectural design. Currently, he is associate dean of emergent design and creative technologies in medicine at Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), where in 2013 he established MEDstudio@JEFF, the first formal educational model of design research and practice in medicine at a U.S. medical academy, and one that is dedicated to the discovery of dignified solutions in healthcare using approaches rooted in human-centered design using antidisciplinary means. Since 2014, MEDstudio has expanded its mission to include many civic partners, including the Philadelphia Rail Park and Cancer Support Community, the overall aim of which is to explore how multiscalar design can be deployed to radically improve health and wellness in urban communities with unmet needs. In 2016, Jones became lead clinical coordinator for a congressionally-directed $318 million, MIT-based, Department of Defense–funded, smart fiber network ( and was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors for discoveries in gene therapy and plasma proteomics.

Dan Luo

Dan Luo is a professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University. He is currently also a faculty member in the Nanobiotechnology Center, Cornell Center for Materials Research, biomedical engineering, and the New Life Science Initiatives at Cornell. Luo obtained his B.S. degree from the University of Science and Technology of China and his Ph.D. in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology in 1997 from The Ohio State University. After postdoctoral training in the Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell, he joined the Cornell faculty in 2001. Luo's research interests have focused on using DNA as both a genetic and a generic material for real world applications including biosensing, drug discovery, drug delivery, alternative energy, and photonic-electronic devices, among others. Since becoming a faculty member at Cornell in 2001, Luo has given more than 100 invited talks worldwide.

Paul L. McEuen

headshot of Paul McEuenPaul McEuen is the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science at Cornell University. He received his B.S. in engineering physics from the University of Oklahoma in 1985 and his Ph.D. in applied physics from Yale University in 1991. He joined the faculty at the University of California–Berkeley in 1992 and was a principal investigator at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs before coming to Cornell in 2001. He is also a novelist; his debut scientific thriller Spiral won the debut novel of the year from the International Thriller Writers Association. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2011 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015. McEuen's research focuses on electronic, optical, and mechanical properties of nanoscale materials. For example, his group has shown that a one-atom thick graphene membrane is an impenetrable barrier, functions as a high-performance drumhead resonator, and can be used to make ultra-miniature origami and kirigami structures. He is currently excited about the construction of functional nanomachines.

Wes McGee

headshot of Wes McGeeWes McGee is an assistant professor of architecture and the director of the FABLab at the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. His work revolves around the interrogation of material performance, with a research and teaching agenda focused on developing new connections between design, engineering, materials, and manufacturing processes as they relate to the built environment through the creation of customized software and hardware tools. With the goal of seamlessly integrating fabrication constraints with design intent, the work spans multiple realms, including algorithmic design, computational feedback of material properties, and the development of novel production processes which utilize industrial robots as bespoken machines of architectural production. McGee is a founding partner and senior designer in the studio Matter Design, whose work spans a broad range of scales and materials, always dedicated to reimagining the role of the designer in the digital era. In 2013, Matter Design was awarded the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and Designers. McGee frequently presents work at national and international conferences on design and fabrication, and the work of Matter Design was recently featured in the book PostDigital Artisans by Jonathan Openshaw (Frame Publishers), as well as "Next Progressives" in Architect magazine. In 2014 he was the cochair of the Robots in Architecture conference, and most recently one of the chairs of the 2016 ACADIA conference.

Achim Menges

headshot of Achim MengesAchim Menges is a registered architect in Frankfurt and professor at Stuttgart University, where he founded the Institute for Computational Design. Currently, he is also a visiting professor in architecture at Harvard GSD. He graduated with honors from the Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture where he subsequently taught as studio master of the emergent technologies and design graduate program and as a unit master in the AA Diploma School. Menges's practice and research focus on the development of integral design processes at the intersection of morphogenetic design computation, biomimetic engineering, and robotic fabrication that enables a highly articulated, performative built environment. His projects and design research work has received various international awards, has been published and exhibited worldwide, and forms part of several renowned museum collections, including the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, among others.

Anil Netravali

headshot of Anil NetravaliAfter obtaining a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University in 1984, Netravali joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Cornell University as a postdoctoral associate. In 1985 he joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering as a research associate and in August of 1987, he joined the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design as an assistant professor of fiber science. Currently, he is the Jean and Douglas McLean Professor in Fiber Science. His main research is in the field of fiber reinforced composites. Within the field of composites, the primary focus of his research group is to develop green resins from plant-based proteins and starches and fabricate environmentally friendly green composites for a variety of applications. These carbon-neutral alternatives for the conventional petroleum-based composites can be composted at the end of their life. His group has also developed "Advanced Green Composites" with high strength and toughness that may be used in primary structural applications as well as ballistic protection. Green composites made from protein based resins also show excellent fire performance. His group is also developing new green nanofibers from agricultural and food wastes for applications in high-efficiency filtration, composites, and medical applications.

Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello

headshot of Ronald RaelRaheadshot of Virginia San Fratelloel and San Fratello, established in 2002, is an internationally recognized, award-winning studio whose work lies at the intersection of architecture, art, culture, and the environment. In 2014 Rael San Fratello was named an Emerging Voice by The Architectural League of New York. Their work has been published in the New York Times, MARK, Domus, Metropolis Magazine, PRAXIS, Thresholds, Log, and Wired, and their writings featured in numerous books and journals. In the past 10 years, Rael San Fratello has won, been selected as a finalist, placed, or recognized in nine high-profile international competitions including WPA 2.0, Sukkah City, Life at the Speed of Rail, SECCA Home/House and Descours. Research by Rael San Fratello resulted in the start-up company Emerging Objects. Emerging Objects is an independent, creatively driven, MAKE-tank at the forefront of 3D printing architecture and design, where innovative materials can be printed at unprecedented sizes. Rael and San Fratello are professors at the University of California–Berkeley and San Jose State University respectively. Rael has a joint appointment in the departments of Architecture and Art Practice and San Fratello teaches in the Department of Design. They both earned their master of architecture degrees from Columbia University. Rael is the author of Earth Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), a history of building with earth in the modern era to exemplify new, creative uses of the oldest building material on the planet; and San Fratello is the winner of the prestigious Next Generation Design Award.

Heather Roberge

headshot of Heather RobergeHeather Roberge is a Los Angeles–based architectural designer and educator. She is the founder and principal of Murmur: Architecture and Environments and is an associate professor in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA where she currently serves as vice chair. Roberge's research and professional work investigate the spatial, structural, and atmospheric potential of digital technologies on the theory and practice of building. In graduate level courses in design and technology, her teaching emphasizes innovative approaches to material, computation, and manufacturing as opportunities to expand the formal vocabulary and spatial implications of building envelopes and assemblies. In recognition of her distinctive work, she was selected for the prestigious 2016 Emerging Voices Program by The Architectural League of New York. In 2015 her installation for the SCI-Arc Gallery, En Pointe, was awarded an AIA design merit award. In 2011 Murmur's proposal for the Succulent House received an AIA Next LA design merit award. Her work has been published in A+U, Praxis, Metropolis, I.D., Wallpaper, Architectural Record, Log, 306090, Form Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times and exhibited in group shows in the U.S. and abroad.

Jenny Sabin

headshot of Jenny Sabin Jenny E. Sabin is an architectural designer whose work is at the forefront of a new direction for 21st-century architectural practice — one that investigates the intersections of architecture and science and applies insights and theories from biology and mathematics to the design of material structures. Sabin is the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Assistant Professor in the area of design and emerging technologies and the director of graduate studies in the Department of Architecture at Cornell University. She is principal of Jenny Sabin Studio, an experimental architectural design studio based in Ithaca, and director of the Sabin Design Lab at Cornell AAP. In 2006 she cofounded the Sabin+Jones LabStudio, a hybrid research and design unit, together with biologist Peter Lloyd Jones. Sabin holds degrees in ceramics and interdisciplinary visual art from the University of Washington and a master of architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. She was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts 2010 and was named a USA Knight Fellow in Architecture. In 2014, she was awarded the prestigious Architectural League Prize for Young Architects and recently, Architectural Record's national Women in Architecture Awards selected her for the 2016 Innovator in design. She has exhibited nationally and internationally including in the acclaimed 9th ArchiLab titled Naturalizing Architecture at FRAC Centre, Orleans, France; and most recently as part of Beauty, the fifth Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial. She coauthored Meander, Variegating Architecture with Ferda Kolatan (Bentley Institute Press, 2010). Her forthcoming book, titled LabStudio: Design Research Between Architecture and Biology, coauthored with Peter Lloyd Jones, will be published in 2017.

Robert Shepherd

headshot of Robert ShepherdRob Shepherd is an assistant professor at Cornell University's Organic Robotics Lab (ORL), which focuses on using synthetic adaptation of natural physiology to improve machine function and autonomy. The lab's research spans three primary areas: bioinspired robotics, soft sensors and displays, and advanced manufacturing. ORL uses soft materials, mechanical design, and novel fabrication methods to replicate sensory organs such as dermal papillae, replicate organs that rely on actuation such as the heart, and to power soft actuators and robots. Shepherd's talk will focus on work related to improving the manufacturing of soft robotics, adding sensing and display capabilities, and applying these advances to biomedical devices.

Skylar Tibbits

headshot of Skylar TibbitsSkylar Tibbits is a codirector and the founder of the Self-Assembly Lab housed at MIT's International Design Center. The Self-Assembly Lab focuses on self-assembly and programmable material technologies for novel manufacturing products and construction processes. Tibbits is an assistant professor of design research in the Department of Architecture where he teaches graduate and undergraduate design studios and How to Make (Almost) Anything, a seminar at MIT's Media Lab, with Neil Gershenfeld. Tibbits was named R&D magazine's 2015 Innovator of the Year, a 2015 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, 2014 inaugural Wired Fellow, 2014 Gifted Citizen, 2013 Fast Company Innovation by Design Award, 2013 The Architectural League Prize, The Next Idea Award at Ars Electronica 2013, Visionary Innovation Award at the Manufacturing Leadership Summit, 2012 TED Senior Fellow, and was named a Revolutionary Mind in SEED magazine's 2008 design issue.

Sasa Zivkovic

Headshot of Sasa Zivkovic

Sasa Zivkovic is a principal of HANNAH, an architecture practice based in the United States and Germany. HANNAH's research focuses on advancing traditional building construction techniques by implementing new technologies and processes of making, addressing subjects of rapid urbanization and mass customized housing design. In close collaboration with the high-tech building industry, the office explores the implementation of advanced construction techniques such as additive manufacturing. Zivkovic pursued his graduate studies at MIT where he was the recipient of the AIA Certificate of Merit, a merit-based MIT full tuition scholarship, and a scholarship from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Prior to MIT, Zivkovic studied architecture and city planning at Stuttgart University where he was awarded a fellowship from the German National Academic Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes) from 2007–12. Zivkovic is currently an assistant professor at Cornell University where he teaches graduate and undergraduate design studios as well as seminar classes with a focus on digital fabrication, computation, and representation. At Cornell, he directs the Robotic Construction Laboratory (RCL), an interdisciplinary research group investigating advanced materials and novel construction technology.


Friday, March 10

5–7 p.m.
Opening keynote: Matthias Kohler

Saturday, March 11

9–11:30 a.m.
Session 1:
Architecture Applications in 3D Printing and Robotic Fabrication

  • Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello
  • Keith Green
  • Construction Robotics
  • Sasa Zivkovic
  • Guy Hoffman
  • Wes McGee

11:30–12:30 p.m. Lunch break

12:30–2:40 p.m.
Session 2:
Architecture Applications in Programmable Matter and Materials Science

  • Skylar Tibbits
  • Paul L. Mceuen
  • Anil Netravali
  • Robert Shepherd
  • Maria Paz Gutierez

2:40–3:10 p.m. Coffee break

3:10–5:40 p.m.
Session 3:
Architecture Applications in Alternative Practices and Across Disciplines

  • Achim Menges
  • Dan Luo
  • Peter Lloyd Jones
  • Heather Roberge
  • Boston Valley
  • Jenny Sabin

5:40–6 p.m. Snack break

6–7:30 p.m.
Closing keynote:
Mario Carpo

7:30–9 p.m.
Closing reception for speakers and faculty

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