CERAMIC TECTONICS: Exploring the structural capabilities of thin, large format ceramic tiles

Mar 13, 2018

Developed by researchers and students from the Material Processes and Systems (MaP+S) Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Ceramic Tectonics: Tile Grid Shell explores the structural capabilities of thin, large format ceramic tiles – a product commonly used as an interior surface finish or exterior cladding.

Structural applications such as the Harvard grid shell are emerging as new applications for tiles, challenging age-old perceptions of ceramic as surface finish. Ceramic Tectonics asks the question; can a product, typically used as a two-dimensional surface also define and enclose a three-dimensional space?

Fabricated from non-reinforced 6mm thick ceramic tile, the catenary form of this triangular, self-supporting grid shell is designed to minimize internal stresses and efficiently span between three points of support. The structure’s 30 ceramic ribs form a novel structural pattern of triangles and hexagons, and are a world-wide first system of this kind constructed from ceramics. The notched connections between structural ribs accommodate for a novel assembly sequence that eliminates the need for mechanical connections between intersecting ribs, and allows each rib to be installed vertically from above.

The project team developed a computerized model in order to generate the geometry of the pavilion, singling out the form into individual components to be able to accommodate assembly tolerances and generate the work path for each component.  This digital model allowed the team to quickly adjust assembly tolerances and component dimensions during the design and prototyping phase.

The structure is composed of 465 unique elements, each of which is customized according to its position in the structure.  These elements vary between 82 to 181 centimeters (32” to 71”) long and 20 to 31 centimeters (8” to 12”) deep.  With a space of 6 meters (20’) between supports and a maximum inside height of 2.5 meters (8’).  The structure has approximately 13.5m2 (44 square feet) of living space.

The Ceramic Tectonics project was first showcased at CEVISAMA 2018 at the annual Trans-Hitos exhibit of ceramics for Architecture.

Director: Professor Martin Bechthold
Project Manager: Zach Seibold
Design Research: Yonghwan Kim, Olga Mesa, Milena Stavric
Coordinator: ITC – Javier Mira

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