Protoceramics: Preview Cevisama 2015

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Protoceramics is an ongoing experiment geared towards producing novel material formations with a special interest in tectonic performance. Conducted by the Material Processes and Systems (MaPS) group at Harvard University, the project investigates the latest generation of thin, large-format ceramic tiles, which presently are largely used as interior surface finish or exterior cladding. Can this material be used in a structural way?

The work pursues three different material manipulations – cutting, folding, and bending – and explores the inherent opportunities of these strategies towards the production of self-supporting assemblies.

Cutting takes advantage of digital fabrication equipment and the precision of computational modeling. Each contoured or perforated sheet in itself lacks the stiffness and stability to be self-supporting, but through connections with adjacent sheets gains enough rigidity to create stable structures. The removal operation of the cutting process is juxtaposed with the additive layering and assembly strategies which at times dissolves the individual sheet, almost pixelates the appearance, and in doing so transforms our perception of ‘ceramic tiles’. The exposed edges, normally carefully hidden, become the all-important focus.

Folding takes advantage of the meshes bonded to the rear side of the ceramic elements, thus reversing the functional focus from the smooth front to a back that was not meant to be visible. By scoring the fold lines such as to leave the mesh intact a live hinge can be created. The ceramic sheets take on an origami-like quality while enabling an elegant way to create three-dimensional geometries on a large scale. Both modular as well as singular folded forms were studied. Some rely on aggregation patterns for stability, others derive their structural logic from inserted rigid frames or from folded edges being otherwise stiffened.

Bending is maybe the least intuitive manipulation of a material commonly known to be brittle. Testing on small samples established safe cold bending radii and elastic material properties. Bending results in internal pre-stressing of the thin sheets, which in turn provides stiffness. The related assembly techniques combine individually bent ceramic tiles into unexpected material formations that defy conventional expectations in ceramic design.

The exhibition at Cevisama 2015 shows three large prototypes at the intersection of sculpture and architectural model. Smaller 3-D printed models show other tectonic assembly possibilities, and a catalogue documents the investigation and the extensive prototyping process that involved students from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University along with a representative of our research partner, the Institute for Structural Design at Graz University of Technology. The show in Valencia opens on February 9.


Director: Prof. Martin Bechthold

Project Manager: Felix Raspall Galli

Design Research: Mariano Gomez Luque, Pablo Roquero

Exhibition Design and Catalogue: Mariano Gomez Luque, Feliz Raspall Galli

Prototyping and Testing: Felix Amtsberg (TU Graz Institute for Structural Design), Kevin Hinz, Amanda Lee, Puja Patel, Zach Seibold, Malika Singh, Tiffany Cheng, Allison Cottle

Construction: Grupo on Market

We would like to thank ASCER Tile of Spain and Cevisama Valen­cia 2015 for their support. Special thanks also to Javier Mira from ITC.

Carved Ceramics

More: GSD News Note, Article in Architect