Cutting-edge 3-D-printing pushes construction boundaries in an Oakland cabin
By John Stoughton
12 March 2018
Photos courtesy Matthew Millman
Image caption: The cabin is integrated into the landscape thanks to the hundreds of succulents and air plants that comprise the facade and are held by the 3-D-printed hexagonal planter tiles. 3-D-printed chairs and tables, also designed by Emerging Objects, serve as both indoor and outdoor furniture.
The 3-D-printed Cabin of Curiosities is a research endeavor and “proof of concept” investigation into the architectural possibilities of upcycling and custom 3-D-printed claddings as a response to 21st-century housing needs.
This exploratory project is an output of Bay Area-based additive manufacturing startup Emerging Objects, founded by College of Environmental Design Associate Professor of Architecture Ronald Rael and his partner Virginia San Fratello, a professor at San Jose State University. They also co-founded the architecture studio Rael San Fratello, whose work primarily focuses on architecture as a cultural endeavor.
The Cabin of Curiosities is a prime example of Emerging Objects’ work, which dives deep into the material science of additive manufacturing while utilizing open-source tools and standard off-the-shelf printers.
Due to a housing emergency in the Bay Area, the Oakland City Council eased restrictions on the construction of secondary housing units, or backyard cottages. The new rules promote more rental housing by easing parking requirements, allowing homeowners to transform existing backyard buildings like sheds and garages into living spaces, and relaxing height and setback requirements.
Located in a residential backyard, the one-room gabled structure brings together a collection of performative tile products, from interior translucent glowing wall assemblies to exterior rain screens composed of integrated succulent planters and textural “shingles” that push the boundaries of how quickly one can mass produce 3-D-printed architectural components.
Over 4,500 3-D-printed ceramic tiles clad the exterior of the building. Rael San Fratello is committed to focusing on upcycling agricultural and industrial waste products, and at times its custom materials sound more like tasting notes from a nearby Napa or Sonoma wine. Grape skins, salt, cement, and sawdust, among others, have been integrated into Emerging Objects’ products to create variety among the tiles.
The project integrates two types of tiles on the exterior: a “planter” tile on the gable ends, and a shingled “seed stitch” tile wrapping the side walls and roof. The planter tiles offer 3-D-printed ceramic shapes that include pockets for vegetation to grow. The seed stitch tiles, borrowing from knitting terminology, are produced through a deliberately rapid printing process that utilizes G-code processing to control each line of clay for a more “handmade” aesthetic. No two tiles are the same, offering unique shadow lines across the facade.
The cabin interior features translucent white Chroma Curl wall tiles, made of a bio-based plastic derived from corn. These tiles offer a customized relief texture inspired by the tradition of pressed metal ceilings, which historically relied on mass production through mold-making.
The 3-D-Printed Cabin might be this generation’s version of Muuratsalo, Alvar Aalto’s classic house circa 1953 experimenting with textured material and architectural form through its construction. “We’re building this from our kitchen table, printing parts and testing solutions in real time,” said San Fratello.
The cabin is a departure from other investigations in 3-D-printed dwellings, many of which are unlivable and not aesthetically considered. “These are not just investigations into testing materials for longevity or for structure, but also a study of aesthetics. We see the future as being elegant, optimistic, and beautiful,” said Rael.