3D printed terracotta brick tower explores robotics in architecture (Video)

University of Hong Kong
© University of Hong Kong

People have been building with bricks since around 7,500 B.C. It's one of of the longest-lasting and strongest materials and shows up throughout history in humble homes to grand towers and monuments. Firing the bricks helps make the finished blocks even more durable (though the process does produce more carbon emissions compared to air-drying them). While the exact methods and types of clay used vary from region to region, the techniques for brick-making haven't changed all that much for thousands of years.

But the introduction of additive manufacturing and robotic technology is transforming the way these traditional earthen materials are made and used. In yet another example of this new direction, Dezeen shows how architecture students and faculty at the University of Hong Kong collaborated with Sino Group to create this one-of-a-kind tower made out of 2,000 3D printed terracotta bricks. Instead of being held together with conventional mortar, the structure uses a wooden framework to hold it up, and each brick's unique shape is digitally fabricated to bear the structure's load and give it stability.

University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong

Measuring 3.8 metres (12.4 feet) tall, the Ceramic Constellation Pavilion is an experiment in incorporating robotic technology into conventional building systems. The tower was built over a period of a couple of weeks during a workshop. Over 700 kilograms (1,543 pounds) of raw terracotta clay was extruded out of a robotic arm outfitted with a 3D printer head. Each brick took about 2 to 3 minutes to manufacture, and were then fired at 1,025 degrees Celsius.

University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong

The idea is to explore the possibilities of digital design and automation in the building industry, says architects and HKU faculty Christian J. Lange, Donn Holohan, and Holger Kehne say:

In a context that has been largely shaped by standardization and mass production, the project seeks to overcome the constraints of today’s architectural production through the introduction of a structure made entirely of non-standard components.

University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong

The way the tower's components has been assembled allows for airflow and visual transparency. It's not totally clear how this system might perform in exterior conditions that might have harsher elements, but the idea is to revive a traditional material, prompt discussion and exploration of process, rather than presenting a finished product for the market, says Lange, who is also the project lead at HKU's Robotic Fabrication Lab:

Robotic architecture will have a profound impact on construction as well as costs and efficiency in the decades to come. Facilitated by building information modelling, robotic application will give architects more control in the building construction process. Some architects are moving ahead from using robotic systems as reconfigurable spaces or “smart furniture” to applying robotic fabrication to the design and construction of high-rise buildings. We hope that young architects can gain an exposure to this exciting technology and let their creativity shine through in architectural and building designs.

University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong
University of Hong Kong© University of Hong Kong

To find out more, visit University of Hong Kong.

Tags: Downloadable Design | Hong Kong | Materials

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