(Re)Thinking the Brick: Digital Tectonic Masonry Systems
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Team: Matías Imbern

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The introduction of digital tools in the production of architecture undoubtedly constitutes the main force behind contemporary architectural innovation. Complex geometry, combined with new fabrication technologies, opens new domains currently addressed from multiple angles of study and experimentation. In addition, the interaction of digital technologies with analog craft manufacturing -a rather unexplored field of study- suggests a wide range of novel opportunities.

This proposal focuses on developing a framework for deploying digital design techniques with the production of bricks under Argentinean vernacular technology as a medium of achieving geometrical variations and functional complexity in domestic-scale projects, to invigorate the use of brick as a contemporary material for architectural production.

Solid clay bricks are embedded in Argentinean traditional ceramic-construction culture. Thus, this thesis faces the challenges of making a feasible innovative system in a country where digital fabrication is not an economically viable option, and engaging a design that can be easily accepted by Argentinean hand-labor. Consequently, the bricks would be massively introduced in the construction market, allowing new formal and functional possibilities for designers.

Though the proposal is about the ‘mutation’ of solid clay bricks, the aim of this thesis is to develop an efficient procedure that can be followed using diverse types of bricks or even other vernacular construction systems.

In light of what was previously described, the thesis hypothesis states the following:

“The application of digital design tools and their capacity of rapid iteration while designing allows for a strategic approach to create a new set of pieces, a ‘plug-in system’, that can enhance traditional brickwork to achieve complex geometry in domestic-scale projects. This system, combined with current bricks, can bring new formal and functional possibilities to masonry construction, a well-known technique in countries with low-tech resources.”

The proposal seeks to strategically enhance the complexity of selected modules in order to increase functionality and complexity of the overall pattern. The new brick system does not try to replace current bricks but to allow more flexibility to brick constructions by adding a limited range of special pieces; designed to increase functional and aesthetic complexity of the overall brick assembly.

Genealogy

The research explores solid clay bricks from their existing conditions and adds a small degree of complexity, step by step, to this traditional material by making several testing iterations. This bottom-up strategy is divided into stages, starting by executing simple geometric operations onto current bricks and then studying possible (re)combinations, structural performance, and texture variations affecting their tactile perception and light conductance capacities. Regarding the design method, the use of digital tools constitutes a key part of the process, to test not only the specific geometry of the module but also its combinations and tolerances.

The chart above expresses the assembly sequence proposed by the system: from module to component, then to architectural entity, and finally to architectural space. As in common brick construction, architectural spaces can be the result of the proliferation of a single module. Nevertheless, this material system was conceived following an intermediate stages’ logic as a method to anchor the results of the bottom-up strategy during the design process. This procedure also enables and enhances the construction of complex spaces by dividing the ‘problem’ into minor components that can be easily assembled.

 Modules and Components Architectural Entities

Digital Generation:

Today, the influence of complex geometry in the development of different branches of contemporary architectural discourses is unquestionable. This thesis embraces this statement as a starting point. Notwithstanding, in the context of this investigation complex form is understood as an enabler of new functional performances for masonry construction.

Architectural Spaces

Materiality is understood as a deterministic factor that immanently affects architectural performance, and the digital approach described in these pages cannot be dissociated from the tectonic expressivity of this structural material. As for the range of application of the newly developed warped bricks, although the proposal was developed under vernacular conditions, the fabrication could be easily implemented in a more industrial production environment as is typical in developed countries, thereby expanding the contribution of the research. Finally, the true ambition behind this thesis is to embrace a collective knowledge in order to put brick back into the architectural agenda as a contemporary material.

Prototypes