Leslie Lok – 2022 Cornell Biennial


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.

RE-FRAME 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, RE-FRAME 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, RE-FRAME seeks to present and acknowledge these histories. Addressing the theme of Futurities, Uncertain, RE-FRAME seeks to broaden the conversation about our shared construction histories and future resource trajectories. Assembled into a tower on the lawn of the Law school and merging new technologies with complex histories, RE-FRAME will complement Cornell’s neo-gothic stone towers by creating an ornamental wooden counterpoint and a beacon of gathering space. A curated exhibition on regional wood construction techniques at its base will 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 of Architecture at Cornell AAP and directs the Rural-Urban Building Innovation Laboratory. An expert in innovative construction and rural-urban architecture, she will lead the team, coordinating the architectural design, exhibition design, and fabrication of the project.


Matthew Reiter, Professor of Practice, is a licensed structural engineer and teaches the Timber Design course for Cornell’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. An expert in timber engineering, he will advise the team on structural design, fireproofing, and building details. Sasa Zivkovic, Assistant Professor of Architecture at Cornell AAP, directs the Robotic Construction Laboratory. He will assist the team with robotic fabrication. Kurt Jordan, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, 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 will work with members at Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor in NY who have been involved in the reconstruction of the Haudenosaunee long houses.

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