Ceramic Tectonics: Tile Grid Shell

Developed by researchers and students from the Material Processes and Systems (MaP+S) Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Ceramic Tectonics: Tile Grid Shell explores the structural capabilities of thin, large format ceramic tiles – a product commonly used as an interior surface finish or exterior cladding.  


Structural applications are emerging as new applications for tiles, challenging age-old perceptions of ceramic as surface finish. Ceramic Tectonics asks the question; can a product typically experienced as a two-dimensional surface also define and enclose a three-dimensional space?


Fabricated from unreinforced 6mm thick ceramic tile, the catenary form of this triangular, self-supporting grid shell is designed to minimize internal stresses and efficiently span between three points of support.  The structure’s 30 ceramic ribs form a novel structural pattern of triangles and hexagons, and are a world-wide first system of this kind constructed from ceramics. The notched connections between structural ribs accommodate for a novel assembly sequence that eliminates the need for mechanical connections between intersecting ribs, and allows each rib to be installed vertically from above.  


The project team developed a computational approach to generate the geometry of the pavilion, discretize the form into individual components, accommodate for assembly tolerances, and generate the toolpath geometry for each component.  This digital workflow enabled the project team to quickly adjust assembly tolerances and component dimensions during the design and prototyping phase.  


With a maximum interior height of 2.48m, and a span of 6m between supports, the structure includes approximately 13.5sqm of occuipiable interior space. It consists of 462 unique elements ranging from 82 – 181cm in length.  The structural depth of each element ranges from 20 – 31cm and is determined by its location within the structure. The ceramic elements measure 107.22sqm in total area. In total, the structure weighs approximately 1,662 kg. 


Director: Professor Martin Bechthold

Project Manager:  Zach Seibold

Project Team: Yonghwan Kim, Olga Mesa, Milena Stavric

Client: Cevisama

Sponsor: ASCER Tile of Spain

Coordinator: ITC: Javier Mira

Installation: Grupo on Market

For press enquiries contact Zach Seibold ([email protected])