Carleton University students design 3D-printed wall for Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery show

Students at the Carleton University architecture school are designing a 3D-printed ceramic wall that uses less material than typical construction for an exhibition at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery.

“The project is complex and challenging, and the students are embracing this and finding incredibly creative and technologically advanced ways of thinking about a wall,” says Associate Professor and director of the Carleton Sensory Architecture and Liminal Technologies Laboratory (CSALT), Sheryl Boyle. “We are working at the scale of a model, but really we are thinking about buildings.”

Given the unique form of the clay structure, developing a printing strategy that successfully printed the components in a seamless manner required a lot of testing. Via

The project will take place at the CSALT where students will use clay as an analogous material to concrete. “The research is aimed at using less concrete in buildings because concrete has a huge carbon footprint,” says Boyle.

The CSALT team’s proposal was selected for an exhibition at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, called Robotic Clay: New Methods in Architectural Ceramics, organized and curated by David Correa, Isabel Ochoa and James Clarke-Hicks. The exhibition is supported by the Masonry Council of Ontario in partnership with the University of Waterloo School of Architecture and the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery.

The project brings together work from institutions across North America, including at least nine teams from the following schools: Carleton University, University of Toronto, Dalhousie University, Laurentian University, the University at Buffalo, and University of Waterloo. The exhibition will run from June 1 to September 10. The opening reception is June 4 at 2,00 p.m.

The exhibition brief asks contributors to design and make a prototype section of a wall one-metre by one-metre square and 200 millimetres thick.

For the Carleton students developing the project, it has required learning everything from the physical assembly of masonry with mortar to how to derive the one-dimensional instruction codes needed by three-dimensional printing from two-dimensional digital drawings.

The result is a prototype for collaboration as well as for a wall. A group of eight students has shared their knowledge and work, assisted by a grant from the Canadian Precast Prestressed Concrete Institute (CPCI). 

Fourth-year undergraduate students Meaghan Dickson, Adonis Lau, and Catalin Bacalu and graduate student Ju Huang are leading the project, with support from third-year students Shela Lamug, George Gialouris-Tsivikas, and Slade Solomon. Stephanie Murray, a Master of Architectural Studies student with expertise in ceramics, is helping with firing and assembly.

Their project, which started in October, creates a wall where the bricks no longer take the load but have become decorative, using two structural systems working in unison. This first system pays homage to the form and assembly of a brick wall, consisting of modular blocks positioned in a staggered layout. 

The second offers support through a series of internal “branches” using a topology optimization software called tOpos, which Boyle says can contribute to using fewer of the world’s resources. “When we put structure only where it needs to do the task, it means we use less material to hold stuff up.”

Having designed a digital model, the students are now printing 110 bricks and 16 structural pieces, drying, and firing them to prepare for assembly. The hollow modular blocks will be assembled with lime mortar.

In addition to the wall, their installation has two smaller secondary components that reference process work: a ceramic floor mat and a textured free-standing wall made of tiles.

The mat will be carved with a digital drawing, or G-code, of numbers and lines representing the path of the 3D printing nozzle. The clay for the wall tiles emerges from decades of accumulated dirt in a garden bed at the Architecture Building. “My process is a sensory and poetic indulgence disguised as a scientific experiment,” says Ju Huang, who is making the tile wall for her master’s thesis.