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Printing with wet clay

The reception area of a high-rise office in downtown Toronto now features a one-of-a-kind privacy wall thanks to a research team from the Waterloo School of Architecture.

Comprised of 175 unique, interlocking bricks made of clay, the Hive project combined an ancient building material with modern digital design and 3D printing technologies.

“This approach embraces the spirit of traditional ceramic craft with robotic precision, offering new avenues for material expression and geometric complexity within this field,” team members wrote in a project description.

The showpiece at the 24th-floor offices of Investment Management Corporation of Ontario at 16 York Street was developed after SDI Interior Design approached the architecture school.

Professor David Correa and his students have been working with clay since acquiring a 3D printer capable of making large-scale objects with it in 2018.

Graduate researcher James Clarke-Hicks and co-op student B. Mingyuan Ma work on the honeycomb wall, which required digital and physical iterations and multiple assembly mockups.

The honeycomb wall features variations in light and privacy as the apertures of its bricks – each one of them unique ­– gradually open and close.

“It was a great applied research experience,” Correa said. “We were super thrilled when it all came together, and it worked out – even better than expected.”

Fabricating the wall required an iterative process using both digital and physical models, as well as the formulation of special clay mixes and multiple assembly mock-ups.

“While the messy and unstable nature of wet clay presents technical challenges in practical applications, these same qualities create opportunities to explore the unique aesthetic and functional possibilities offered by this fabrication process,” the team wrote.

In addition to Correa, the design and development team included alumni Ye Sul E. Cho, Ji Shi and Meghan Taylor, and graduate researchers James Clarke-Hicks and Isabel Ochoa.

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