Researchers from the Graduate School of Design (GSD) at Harvard University, and from the Graz University of Technology, recently presented an installation that showcased new structural possibilities for ceramics at the 2014 Cevisama 2014.
The shell system is part of a research project that highlights the aesthetic and formal qualities of an innovative structural system developed at the Design Robotics Group at the GSD. This ongoing research project is led by Professor Bechthold at Harvard University, and is supported by the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturer’s Association (ASCER), as well as Cevisama and the Institute for Ceramics Technology (ITC).
Ceramics holds a long and indisputable reputation in architecture as a noble, enduring material, and its application is frequently associated with surface cladding and interior finishes. The research team is intending to widen the design scope for ceramics by developing a challenging application: structural shells. Inspired by the pioneering work of engineers Eduardo Torroja and Eladio Dieste half a century ago, and learning from Rafael Guastavino’s tile vaults, the research proposes a composite system in which the composite action of ceramics and concrete creates a lightweight, thin structural surface. The ceramic tile element is designed strategically to accommodate the complex geometries of the structure, and address construction and production tolerances as well. The structural tile element serves as a formwork for casting high-strength concrete, providing a unique and appealing scale-like aesthetic.
The 8 by 5 meters installation at Cevisama 2014 was exemplary of the aesthetic and formal qualities of the system. The double-curvature surface, suspended at the central crossroad of the exhibition hall, provided dynamic impressions according to the spectators’ point of view. In addition, the installation showed the technical and economic feasibility of producing custom tiles even for low production volumes. The 140 pieces required for the shell were manufactured using the traditional artisanal method of slip casting in plaster molds.