Smart Block is a fabrication project exploring the potential of large scale clay 3D printing. Taking advantage of digital construction methods, the goal of the research was to produce flexible architecture elements that could be used both as solid blocks and as perforated interior screens or brise-soleil.

Industrially produced bricks are made by pushing clay through a die that generates a long extruded profile which is later cut with a wire into smaller elements of the desired dimension. The process prioritizes the production of pieces with straight edges and alternative forms are quite difficult to achieve.

The Smart Block project took advantage of the unique features of a ceramic 3D printer, the Pauta Queen, an open source machine developed in Torino by Bruno Demasi. The Pauta Queen is capable of printing clay artifacts up to 650mm in diameter and 900mm in height while the size of the extrusion nozzle can vary between 6 and 20mm. This kind of machine allows a very flexible process when compared to industrial mass production: unlike commercial bricks, each print can be different and internal walls and edges can be inclined.

Maximizing the opportunities offered by the 3D printer machine, the Smart Block project’s research developed in two different explorations: self supporting hexagonal blocks used for walls and partitions and perforated hexagonal elements used for screens and mashrabiya. Both systems are assembled starting from a different orientation of the same brick element. In both cases, in order to produce objects with variable heights, we developed a system to deposit non-planar layers of clay controlling locally the amount of extruded material according to the variable layer height. The resulting layer texture becomes an ornamental feature of the brick coherent with both fabrication the method and its geometrical concept. This allowed us to generate objects with unique geometries that cannot be fabricated with traditional methods. The hexagonal blocks do not need any structural support. They can be used in multiple orientations generating different solutions: opaque walls, semi transparent partitions, perforated dividers. The hexagonal elements require a metal structural support and they can be used as architectural screens, brise soleil or mashrabiya. 

Considering the flexibility that the fabrication method supports, the shape and features of the pieces could be easily adapted to satisfy the functions, the climate and the cultural values of the context of their use.

Design Team: Marco Bruno, Alessandro Zomparelli (computational design), Simone Carena, Bruno Demasi (digital ceramist)

Produced in: Munlab (Ecomuseo dell’argilla, Cambiano), Clay Code (Bruino)

Photos: PEPE fotografia

The project is supported by a VCUarts Qatar Research Grant