Earthen Builder Simulation: Representing Natural Materials and Embodied Carbon With Computational Play

Neil Potnis and Lola Ben-Alon
pp.  168 – 193, download


Natural building materials are critical to the future of a decarbonized built environment. Involving low-carbon and readily available materials such as clay-richsoils and plant fibers in building processes employ a range of techniques, and hence, a range of environmental and visual features, from rammed earth to cob and light straw clay. However, despite their advantages, natural materials are not represented in mainstream construction, perceived mistakenly as poor in theirperformance, low-tech, and are missing representation in training for building professionals. This research develops a digital representations-study of naturalmaterial futures and their associated embodied carbon. It links, for the first time, computational play, and critical data with traditional recipes of designing with natural materials. A digital tool for sustainable engagement was developed by utilizing a geological database of locally available soil-based repositories. As an exploratory design tool, it was tested through 24 playtests for its mechanics, graphical user interface, and perception shifts among designers and researchers. The final outcome seeks to establish a digital foundation for a more comprehensive earthen materials knowledge tool and life-cycle assessment. As a final deliverable, this work aims to unveil the strength of simulative material representations in heightening the knowledge base of an overlooked, historic, and sustainable practice.

Keywords: Earthen materials; Media arts; Computational play; Life-cycle assessment; Embodied carbon; Sustainability design.


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