Innovating Ceramics: the future of architectural applications

Computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering (CAD/CAM/CAE) technologies are increasingly integrated into many aspects of design and construction. ‘Digital Fabrication’ has been deeply embedded in today’s architectural discourse, has enabled new modes of practice, and has informed design pedagogy on a global scale. Whether driven by a desire for performance optimization, individualized customization or formal freedom, designers have adopted these tools and are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the emerging built environment. As technology evolves, this rapidly changing field continually presents architects and designers with new challenges and opportunities.

Here, ceramic material systems serve as the framework for contextual discussion, research, and experimentation surrounding digital design and fabrication technologies. While ceramics have a long history as a material in architecture, newly emerging methods of assembly and digital fabrication are now challenging the dominance of the ubiquitous tile. Ceramics have the potential to produce a great diversity of shapes through a variety of material processes. Craft-based manufacturing and high-volume industrial production of clay-based ceramics are both affected by the integration of digital and robotic fabrication techniques. Potential opportunities arising from the above integration were explored during semester-long group research projects at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design during the course: Material Systems: Digital Design, Fabrication, and Research Methods in the Fall of 2013.

The artifacts presented here are the result of prototypical experimentation conducted during the pursuit of research questions related to the architectural application of ceramics in the context of emerging manufacturing technologies. This is an exhibition of process, not product, and is intended to present opportunities, inspire collaboration, and encourage discourse between makers.
—Nathan King and Rachel Vroman


Research sponsored by: 
ASCER- Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturers’ Association
Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Design Robotics Group

Research support provided by:
Office for the Arts at Harvard, Ceramics Program
Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Fabrication Laboratory

Special thanks to:
Office for the Arts at Harvard, Ceramics Program
Kathy King, Director of Education
Shawn Panepinto, Director of Studio Operations and Outreach
Kyla Toomey, Ceramics Program Instructor
Zac Mickelson, Ceramics Program Instructor

Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Martin Bechthold, Professor of Architectural Technology
Burton LeGeyt, Lab Supervisor, Fabrication Laboratory
Linda Zhang, Course Teaching Assistant

Exhibition Curator
Rachel Vroman, Instructor in Architecture and Manager, Fabrication Laboratory


Alice Chai
Emily Kappes
Saurabh Shrestha
Brian Chu
Hea Min Kim
Nina Sinatra
Conor Coghlan
Jina Kim
Malika Singh
Sekou Cooke
Rossitza Kotelova
Isaac Smith
Rachel Dickey
Charlotte Lipschitz
Peter Sprowls
Jared Friedman
Olga Mesa
Lingli Tseng
Ahmed Hosny
Saurabh Mhatre
Yingyi Wang
Jili Huang
Zachary Seibold
Arta Yazdanseta
Nicholas Jacobson
Bongjai Shin