Leslie Lok, Kurt Jordan, Matthew Reiter, Sasa Zivkovic


Installation | Built Environment

In times of uncertain futures and environments, wood framing needs to be fundamentally re-visited to address its often-ignored socio-political shortcomings and environmental controversies. The industrialized practice of wood framing emerged from a long and colonial American tradition of rapid wood construction and remains conceptually tied to its problematic roots in early settler colonialism. Early framing (along with timber construction, the burning of wood for fuel, and agriculture) are connected to the deforestation of lands across the Americas which itself was made possible by the violent, large-scale dispossession of Indigenous peoples and communities. Today, framing fosters the rapid expanse of urban sprawl, offering cheap and quick building solutions across the country. Environmentally, framing relies on non-local fast-growing softwood from mono-cultural forests. While economically successful, framing often remains without a viable alternative: 2x4s are simply (too) cheap, (too) easy to discard, and (too) available at every home improvement store.

UNFRAME questions current paradigms of timber framing by working with local forest resources devastated by the ongoing Emerald Ash Borer epidemic. Robotic techniques enable new milling patterns for infested Ash trees: the design asks how far a single log can be stretched – both literally as an assembly and figuratively as a valuable resource. Stretched from logs into wall surfaces that reference and reinterpret the structural rhythm of traditional wood framing, UNFRAME also relies on active bending and weaving strategies that are found in often-underrepresented architectural typologies such as the Haudenosaunee longhouses. The Haudenosaunee longhouses use locally available materials to build efficient structures. As an exhibition space, UNFRAME seeks to present and acknowledge these histories. Addressing the theme of Futurities, Uncertain, UNFRAME seeks to broaden the conversation about our shared construction histories and future resource trajectories. Assembled into a tower on the Arts Quad and merging new technologies with complex histories, UNFRAME complements Cornell’s neo-gothic stone towers by creating an ornamental wooden counterpoint and a beacon of gathering space. An augmented reality (AR) exhibition on regional wood construction techniques at its base highlight a diverse variety of techniques that can help re-frame the way we think about our future built environment.

Leslie Lok is an assistant professor at Cornell University Department of Architecture and directs the Rural-Urban Building Innovation Lab (RUBI). Working with non-standardized and natural material, her research and teaching explore the intersection of technology, novel material methods, and urbanization.  By studying regional behaviors from spatial transformation to material resources, her work contextualizes design strategies with computational protocols and augmented reality (AR)/mixed reality (MR) technologies for the design of adaptable buildings and housing in rural-urban contexts.

Leslie is also a co-founder at HANNAH, an experimental design practice working across scales from furniture to urbanism. The office has a keen interest in architectural explorations grounded in material expression, digital fabrication, and construction. HANNAH is the recipient of the 2020 Architectural League Prize, was named one of Architect Magazine’s Next Progressives in 2018 and won ArchDaily’s Best New Practice Award in 2021. The studio’s work has been published in Architectural Record, Architect Magazine, Log, the New York Times, Dwell, and Dezeen, among others, and was exhibited internationally.


Matthew Reiter is a licensed structural engineer and a Professor of Practice at Cornell’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He has a breadth of experience in structural design and management. An expert in timber engineering, Matthew advises the team on structural design, fireproofing, and building details from wood to steel components.

Sasa Zivkovic is an Assistant Professor at Cornell University AAP where he directs the Robotic Construction Laboratory (RCL), a research group that develops novel robotic construction technology based on sustainable material systems. Sasa is also co-founder of HANNAH, an experimental design practice working across scales from furniture to urbanism. The office has a keen interest in architectural explorations grounded in material expression, digital fabrication, and construction.

Kurt Jordan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology and is the Director of the American Indian & Indigenous Studies Program (AIISP). Kurt’s research centers on the archaeology of Haudenosaunee peoples, emphasizing the settlement patterns, housing, and political economy.

The team consults with members at Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor in NY who have been involved in the reconstruction of the Haudenosaunee long houses.

RUBI Lab & RCL Team

Lawson Spencer, Research Associate and Project Manager

Shihui Xu, Research Assistant

Alexander Kyaw, Research Assistant

Yuxuan Xu, Research Assistant

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