Earth Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press 2008) presents the most widely used building material on the planet—earth (soil, clay, gravel and sand)—as relevant to contemporary and modern architecture and dissolves preconceptions that it is a fragile material in use only in poorer, developing nations.
In the book’s afterword, a future scenario for the material is posed—one that employs Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) processes. While it is commonly considered that digital manufacturing and earthen architecture exist at opposing ends of the technological spectrum, this research bridges the wide gap that exists between non-industrial, industrial and digital modes of production expanding on the benefits of each.
Because the inherent nature of 3D printing opens new possibilities for shaping materials, the process of 3D printing clay reshapes the way we think about architectural building components. Digital materiality, a term coined by Italian and Swiss architects Fabio Gramazio and Matthias Kohler, describes materiality increasingly enriched with digital characteristics where data, material, programming and construction are interwoven and this research seeks to exploit this potential by creating ceramic architectural components.
Working with a research collaborator, Dr. Mark Ganter, of the Solheim Lab in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Washington, as well as with the collaboration of the Department of Art Practice’s experience with Kilns, clay bodies and mixing techniques, this critical research opens doors to the production of geomemetic architectural components that are weather proof, solar responsive, store or filter water, hold plant life, contain embedded technologies, create insulation barriers between interior and exterior surfaces, dissipate seismic forces and many other possibilities offered by this nascent and potent process. These include prototypes of new brick and façade systems to house vertical gardens in urban areas as well as components that absorb and filter water.
Because the process requires no dies or molds, ceramic components can now be mass-customized, employing the flexibility of computer-aided manufacturing systems, rather than mass- produced, allowing design parameters to be quickly changed and tested without incurring costs associated with labor and retooling. Thus, the process bypasses several of the steps involved in traditional ceramics production, which include molding, form making, extraction, slip casting, plaster casting, making it possible to go directly from file to fabrication.