Tectonics Tessellation: Ceramic Structural Surfaces

Team: Matías Imbern, Felix Raspall, Qi Su

Structural surfaces are extremely efficient in the use of materials and have a unique expressive quality. However, complicated manufacturing involving expensive formworks, excessive waste and intensive hand-labor, became major limitation as labor costs increased, environmental issues became evident and craft skills diminished. Today, digital tools for design and fabrication challenge these limitations, taking advantage of the fast and precise study of complex-form structures and automation of construction and assembly. A related paper was presented at Acadia 2012.


This research proposes a construction process for ceramic shells that reduces the requirements for formworks, on-site work, and waste production. This process involves a two-step fabrication including off-site panel manufacturing and on-site assembly. The construction system consists of two interlocking triangular pieces that provide compression resistance and a delicate inner surface finish, embedded in a thin reinforced concrete layer. The construction of panels, produced in a shop environment, follows this sequence: use of an adjustable and reusable formwork system to receive the triangular pieces, robotic placement of the pieces and casting of the first layer of reinforced concrete between the pieces. The panels are then delivered and placed on site, interlocked and connected with a second layer of concrete, continuous throughout the shell.

The research methodology included precedents study, design and prototyping of pieces and assembly sequence and a final full-scale prototype of two panels to test the panel connection. The results of this study shows the feasibility of this approach to shell fabrication and sets the ground for further development which will include structural analysis, concrete-casting automation and reusable formwork development.