Credits: Jenny Sabin Studio

Architectural Designer and Artist: Jenny E. Sabin

Design and Production Team: Martin Miller, Jillian Blackwell, Jin Tack Lim, Liangjie Wu, Lynda Brody

On view as part of the 9th ArchiLab, FRAC Centre, Orléans, France

This project is funded jointly by Jenny Sabin Studio, the Pew Fellowships in the Arts and the PCCW Affinito-Stewart Grant at Cornell University.

This project showcases next steps in the integration of complex phenomena towards the design, production, and digital fabrication of ceramic form in the design arts and architecture. This work includes advances in digital technology, digital fabrication, advanced geometry, and material practices in arts, crafts, and design disciplines. Techniques in parametric and associative environments are incorporated with feedback derived from material constraints as well as performance assessments. The project interrogates the physical interface between networking behavior and fabricated material assemblies in order to address novel applications of non-standard ceramic components towards the production of 3D textured prototypes and systems. The production of ceramic blocks and tiles has a vast technological and design history. Ceramic modules of standard measurement have been used as a building block and replacement of stone for centuries. Ceramic bricks and tiles, so ubiquitous in their application in the built environment, have surprisingly lacked recognition as a viable building component in contemporary architecture practice until now. Industrial and technological advances have shown us that ceramic production can be manual, mechanical, and now digital. The use of CAD/CAM technologies to automate the design and fabrication of ceramic form has since inspired a new appreciation for ceramic material in architecture, but further design research and production is necessary. Importantly, the plastic nature of clay offers up a potent material solution to contemporary generative design processes in architecture, which frequently feature organic and natural forms of increasingly complex expression and ornamentation. Original design research on the topic of Digital Ceramics was carried out for the past 3 years and has informed this new installation titled PolyMorph. Biology provides useful systems-based models for architects to study and understand how context specifies form, function, and structure. While the first phase of this design work resides within the spirit of research and discovery, the current phase engages design-oriented applications in experimental ceramic material systems ranging from new concepts of materiality to adaptive structures and complex geometries. Key to this design research is the exploration of new tectonic organizations for application at the architectural scale. Essential part-to-whole relationships abstracted from mathematical and natural systems are explored through the design and 3D printing of 1:1 scale non-standard components on a 3D printer. A bespoke script based on networking behavior and recursive properties generates PolyMorph. The density of the network is constrained by material properties inherent to working with clay. In the production of relationships and correspondences, “tools” such as computer scripts are designed and developed to orchestrate the movement between multiple modes of working. Parallel processing, feedback loops, and research are encouraged to provide an environment in which dynamic relationships reveal to the imagination new possibilities of organization at multiple scales. The networking studies used to generate the overall framework for PolyMorph are adjusted and further designed with the integration of a component family. The nodes within the network are spatialized through 3 distinct, but connected components. Together, the components feature over 1300 different connection combinations. Mathematical scripts are used as a sketch tool to explore experimental geometries that share synthetic relationships with networking models found in nature. Through subtle adjustments of mathematical and geometric parameters designed and organized in a set of simple components, it is possible to simulate and inhabit geometry as nature does, absent of representation and translation, in a constant formation, where geometry and matter are one--taking not one, but many forms and structures. The production of ceramic form includes three distinct phases: greenware, bisque firing, and glaze firing. Greenware is the initial state of the clay form before firing. It is during this phase, that the clay may be manipulated through hand forming, throwing, casting, and now 3D printing. The actual clay modules in PolyMorph are directly slip cast from negative plaster molds generated from 3D printed positive molds. Slip casting requires liquid clay or what is commonly called ‘slip.’ By 3D printing 2-part molds, the resolution and complexity of each digital component is maintained. Multiple plaster casts are made of the positive 3D prints, allowing for the production of multiple casts of the original 3 parts. Slip casting affords rapid production of multiple parts, but with limited variation. Complexity and variation of each part is governed by the mold. By 3D printing the mold, the complexity of each cast part was significantly controlled through the initial digital model. The possibility of incorporating differentiated ceramic modules in architecture through a controlled and mass-customized process that integrates design to production in one linked loop, is readily at hand through initial prototypes and the final project, PolyMorph. It is now possible to embed complex phenomena in ceramic building blocks—from design to final production—through the integration of 3D printed component design and mold production for the casting of unique and varied parts. The plastic nature of clay offers up a material terrain for a careful and highly controlled deployment of complex and organic form. In this sense, the crafting of ornament takes on a deeply structural and material realm, where code/pattern, geometry, material, fabrication, and assembly are interconnected. This is much more than a physical product, but is an architectural concept where geometric figures, matter, and form reside. This work embraces established disciplines in a collaborative environment devoid of boundaries, sifted through, compiled, and applied by architects, artists, and scientists alike. Loose loop and tight loop configurations give rise to new rhythms, new effects, and technological leaps situated at the nexus of art, architecture, and science. PolyMorph: Digital Ceramics presents a body of work situated at this pliable and calcified interface.