Architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, founders of the Emerging Objects studio, are not known for shying away from ambitious work. Their most recent project proves that once again. The partners have 3D printed four structures made from a mud-based material which are inspired by the historical Rio Grande river.
The project, called Mud Frontiers, is the latest in Rael and San Fratello’s investigation into construction 3D printing using a variety of natural, historically relevant materials. In this case, the four structures—called Hearth, Beacon, Lookout and Kiln—were made from a mud-based material that harkens back to the the Rio Grande river banks in Colorado’s San Luis Valley, which was, up until the mid 19th century, the border between the U.S. and Mexico.
The Mud Frontiers project began with in depth research into the area, focusing on its tradition of hand-modeled earthen structures and pottery made from mud and clay from the Sangre de Chriso and San Juan mountains. Then, using the natural and local materials, the Emerging Objects team proceeded to experiment with 3D printing, using a portable Potterbot XLS-1 printer made by 3D Potter.
Through these on-location experiments, Rael, Fratello and their team were able to come up with material mixtures, architectural theories and structural designs for the 3D printed mud huts, which were informed not only by 3D printing but also by the past.
Among the four structures, Hearth consists of a thin mud wall that is reinforced with rot-resistant juniper wood. The juniper sticks are embedded in such a way that they join two walls together and are hidden on the inside but stick out on the outside. Inside the structure, a circular mud bench follows the perimeter of the structure, facing towards a firepit in the middle.
Beacon, for its part, investigates how the thinnest wall can be made using a coiled design. The structure is also characterized by lights that illuminate the indentations of the wall, acting as a sort of beacon. Lookout also uses coils, but to a different end. The architects integrated a 3D printed mud staircase into the structure, as well as mud piping on the inside walls to create air pockets for better insulation.
Kiln, as the name implies, houses a kiln for firing 3D printed vessels and earthenware. The kiln is powered by local juniper wood and represents a mixture of both Taos and Picuris Pueblos traditions.
Rael explained: “Each 3D printed ceramic vessel has [revealed] areas where carbon has not been burned out, leaving a deep black colour, similarly to Taos Pueblo traditions, and employ a micaceous slip over the surface, that when the carbon burns out completely, is a brilliant golden surface.”
The Kiln structure itself combines many of the design approaches used in the other three structures, including coiling and criss-crossing mudwork.
The recent Mud Frontiers project builds on Emerging Objects’ previous work in El Paso, Texas, where it worked with students from the University of Texas at El Paso to explore indigenous materials and 3D print a series of 170 ceramic objects.
“Emerging Objects explores these frontiers of technology and material using traditional materials (clay, water, and wheat straw), to push the boundaries of sustainable and ecological construction in a two phase project that explores traditional clay craft at the scale of architecture and pottery,” Rael commented. “The end goal of this endeavour is to demonstrate low-cost and low-labour construction that is accessible, economical and safe is possible.”