Material Practice as Research: Digital Design and Fabrication

Kathryn King, Director of Education, Ceramics Program, Office for the Arts at Harvard, will also be involved in this course.

The translation between the architectural design and the subsequent actualization process is mediated by various tools and techniques. Through the adoption in architectural design practice of computation and information technologies, with their capacity for a relatively seamless transition between design and fabrication, a more integrated workflow across the design and actualization process is made more accessible to designers. In recent years, designers have become increasingly able to move effortlessly between digital modeling, performance simulation, and physical realization. As technology evolves, this rapidly evolving field continually presents architects and designers with new challenges and opportunities for creative exploration as well as a more materially intelligent practice.

This course pursues research in architectural design placing technology as a driver in the creative processes. Offered as an open enrollment lecture/workshop, it introduces students to the fundamentals of information technologies for architectural design. Through a combination of weekly lectures, discussions and hands-on workshops, topics to be addressed include associative modeling for fabrication, digital tooling approaches, fundamentals of fabrication Including direct and indirect methods, CNC machine environments, industrial robotics, prototyping techniques, building systems, and customization strategies.

In the course, ceramics will serve as the framework for research, discussion and experimentation on digital design and fabrication technologies. While ceramics has one of the longest histories as a material in architecture, it may also still be one of the material families to offer the potential and mutability to generate a range of novel applications by engaging a variety of emerging digital fabrication processes. The Craft-based manufacturing and high-volume industrial production traditionally associated with clay-based ceramics may be rethought through the lens of digital design and fabrication techniques. The extension of the capacity for the application of ceramics in architecture through an engagement with digital design and fabrication will be explored during semester-long group research projects with the additional guidance of the Harvard Ceramics Program and with support from the Spanish Ceramic Tile Manufacturer’s Association (ASCER).

The emphasis of the course will be placed on developing research methods within areas of design computation, digital fabrication, and related material processes. Working in small groups, students will undertake one semester-long design research project culminating in a scholarly paper and a series of related prototypes and design experiments. Students will be expected to articulate their proposal’s relevance to and potential impact on wider design practice, positioning their work within the larger research on digital design and fabrication. Students will make extensive use of the GSD\’s Fabrication Lab, its CNC-devices and industrial robots, as well as the Harvard Ceramics Studio.