ACAW: The Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop

Project Credits: LMN (Team: Plamena Milusheva (as part of LMN and as an independent designer), Evgeniya Plotnikova, Alex Woodhouse, Scott Crawford (design principal), Stephen VanDyck (partner in charge))

WORKFLOWS

Rhino/Grasshopper

RhinoCAM/CNC mill

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Photoshop

VRay

ACAW is a hands-on research and development workshop for architects and facade engineers to explore the use of terra cotta in high-performance facade design. The workshop is organized and supported by Boston Valley Terra Cotta and the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning.

From the Organizers: The workshop’s objective is to introduce and consider the properties of terra cotta earlier in the architect’s design process and to develop research and design models between manufacturing and architectural industries useful to the efficient production of high-performance facade solutions. Through pre-design and prototype development, teams’ exploration includes the use of new digital tools in the production of terra cotta assemblies, the development of unitized façade systems, and how the variable materiality of terra cotta (through-body color, finish and glaze) can inform and enhance a façade’s performance.

As one of the 2020 participants, our team developed a slip cast ceramic module that aggregates to create a permeable partition. The concept for the project was informed both by mathematical patterns for hexagonal tiling as well as elements found in nature. We wanted to create a wall system that had a strong volumetric quality to it, where the individual modules could act as vessels for a range of things: water, plant life, or small animal habitat. We wanted the final result to feel like something that could be left in nature without feeling out of place there. This was the driving force between a number of the design decisions in the form, texturing, and glazing strategies for the project. This work was presented for the ACAW Virtual Symposium on August 13, 2020.

Image by Alex Woodhouse / LMN

Image by Michael Day and Alex Woodhouse / LMN

For this project, the main goal was to push traditional methods of slip casting in production. We approached this along two tracks: developing a volumetric geometry rather than a planar tiling and experimenting with surface texture and glazing combinations.

While designing the form, we focused on the CNC milling process as the generative framework for experimenting with surface texturing. We developed a range of surface patterns by building and manipulating custom finishing tool paths in Grasshopper. Partial physical samples of the more promising textures were sent to Andy Brayman, the ACAW resident ceramicist, at The Matter Factory for casting and glaze tests.

Images by Andy Brayman / The Matter Factory

Once we selected the general direction of the tool path pattern, we digitally studied variations of it on the full 3D geometry. We were able to get a visual approximation of the final result by running simulations in RhinoCAM.

Before doing the full run we did a few partial mills to study some of the more challenging areas, such as the transition between the face pieces and the middle section of the full module. Because the direction of the bit changes in relation to the material orientation, this detail required more testing and refinement to develop correctly.

Images by Evgeniya Plotnikova / LMN

Images by Andy Brayman / The Matter Factory

Images by Evgeniya Plotnikova / LMN

Images by Andy Brayman / The Matter Factory

Images by Andy Brayman / The Matter Factory

Images by Andy Brayman / The Matter Factory

Images by Andy Brayman / The Matter Factory

Images by Alex Woodhouse / LMN

Images by Alex Woodhouse / LMN