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SEEM[N]EST Art Installation at Tallinn Biennale Explores 3D Printing with Porous Clay Materials

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A team of designers from Studio UnSeen, Tiia Vahula, Ljudmilla Georgijeva, Madis Kaasik, working with

Newcastle University Experimental Architecture Group (Rachel Armstrong, Rolf Hughes, Simone Ferracina)

built the SEEM[N]EST installation for the Tallinn Architecture Biennale curator exhibition (curated by Claudia Pasquero) to explore 3D printing in clay and how porous materials could become a surface for plants, birds, bugs.

Anthropocene Island raises important questions about our relation to the artificial, human-made, synthetic and the natural, wild and the ecological. When does the natural become artificial or vice versa, and how does its value change in our perception? The artificial peninsula of Paljassaare is valued precisely for its wilderness and natural ecosystem. Its significant features include a wastewater treatment facility, abandoned military structures, contaminated soils and other human activity byproducts.
Can human activity be more integrated with natural ecosystems? Advances in technology, design and bioengineering allow us to work with a complexity that symbiotically incorporates natural cycles into the human habitat instead of excluding or damaging them. On one hand, our approach is to work with an ecological, very local and traditional material in a forward-looking, technological way, innovating its properties and exploring new application possibilities.
On the other hand, one of the most archetypical typologies in architecture, a wall as a room divider, becomes a focus of this work. The SEEM[N]ESTinstallation accordingly explores how new technologies like 3D printing can be combined with natural and ecological materials to create a complex and multifunctional structure.
3D printing is a very rapidly developing technology. The process could be explained as robotically depositing material into the desired shape. The precision, replicability and computational control of the 3D printed shape allow for creating designs that would be impossible to produce using traditional methods. Although the most well-known applications of 3D printing use plastic, the range of materials that can be 3D printed is very broad: glass, ceramics, metals, concrete, earth, chocolate and so on.
SEEM[N]EST is a multifunctional wall of porous clay stones showcasing the complexity of 3D printed ceramics in architecture. The porous stones work as filters and collectors of rainwater and melting water during spring as well as to accommodate biological organisms and possibly plants, insects or birds. Several explorative test prints have been made in the process to achieve the desired porous structure. The design of the installation has been created using a custom code written by Kaiko Kivi. Estonian Academy of Arts Department of Ceramics led by Urmas Puhkan and Lauri Kilusk has been a partner in the production process.
The choice of clay can easily be justified, as it is the world’s most widely used natural building material, that has various positive properties. It is a good noise insulator and an average heat insulator, if mixed with chopped straw; it is fireproof and a breathing material. As a building material, it is known as a good humidity regulator and improves the air quality, and is considered to be very ecological due to its low energy consumption during construction. Natural un red clay products are 100% reusable. As a downside plastered walls are rain sensitive and clay products shrink during the drying process, which can cause cracking. Despite its long tradition as a building material, 3D printed clay has a lot of new potential qualities to be discovered at the architectural scale.
Studio UnSeen is a Tallinn-based design practice that explores robotic manufacturing methods and their implementation in contemporary architecture, interior and product design. Its current focus is on experimenting with 3D printed ceramics, working at the interface of digital design, custom built robotics, traditional crafts and natural materials.
Authors: Studio UnSeen (Tiia Vahula, Ljudmilla Georgijeva, Madis Kaasik) with
Newcastle University Experimental Architecture Group (Rachel Armstrong, Rolf Hughes, Simone Ferracina)
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