High Performance Ceramic Facade

Arduino makers project - High Performance Ceramic Facade

Made with Arduino Uno

arduino Uno


hansoncheng.com | hcheng@risd.edu

Click to enlarge image Ceramic_Facade_1.jpg

High Performance Ceramic Facade - Makers project made with Arduino Uno


This project is an integrated computational and digital fabrication prototype for a custom high performance ceramic facade system. In designing a high performance facade, one that is tailored to the lighting conditions based on programmatic needs of a space, the additive manufacturing process has allowed for a highly optimized design with greater flexibility, variety, and possibly efficiency in construction. The MIT Media Lab was chosen as a case study and experiment for the 3D printed optimized facade due to its variability in programmatic elements within one elevation of the building. This project aims to address the implications of the additive manufacturing process on an architectural scale.

The design of the facade via Grasshopper and the experimental phase of the printing developed concurrently. The extruder was reconfigured from an existing Ryobi caulking gun to efficiently extrude a special mix of porcelain and sand called CV90 made specifically in the RISD ceramics department. The most ideal mixture and consistency of the clay became a determinant in both the configuration of the extruder, as well as the design of individual components because of its structural properties and understanding the limit of the material.

This work is a result of the advanced studio “Where is the Architecture Button?“ Taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, Department of Architecture by Nathan King and was supported in kind by the Virginia Tech Center for Design Research (CDR).


What have you made?

The 18V DC Motor, gearbox and plunger system were taken from the original Ryobi caulking gun and rewired to external control box. The box consisted of an Arduino Uno, a potentiometer, mosfet and a 3­way 6­pin toggle switch; this allowed the caulking gun to extrude at different speeds as well as reverse the plunger by reversing the current. The extruder and ABB Robot operated as two separate systems where the control box controlled the extruder and the ABB robot had its own controller system. With the motorized caulking gun attached to the ABB robot, we were able to print individual components of the clay facade, which was later attached and assembled together.

What gave you the initial inspiration?

Our inspiration of this project was heavily influenced by our explorations and process. We were given the opportunity to do anything with the ABB robot arm. Our initial explorations with the robot was extruding salt dough, PLA, foam, and clay. Clay was chosen as our optimal medium because of its material properties and long history in architecture. Interested in the idea of prototyping, customization and mass production, our project naturally evolved to be a 3d printed clay facade.

We were given the opportunity to do anything with the ABB robot arm and as architecture students we have always been interested in the control and design of light. Since the nature of the robot allowed for the ultimate customization, we wanted to see to what extent can we challenge the fabrication process in optimizing light within a space.

What is the original idea behind this project?

The original idea behind this project was to investigate the implications of additive manufacturing in architecture. Our research and explorations in material and design led us to a modular porous facade system and we wanted to see to what extent can we challenge the fabrication process in optimizing light within a space.

How does it work?

  1. The porcelain CV90 clay is wedged to eliminate all air bubbles and loaded into a canister (made of pvc pipes and industrial nozzles
  2. The canister is then loaded onto the extruder that is already attached to the robot arm
  3. The arduino is hooked up to the computer and connected to a battery
  4. The robot code for a single module (generated from Grasshopper plug-­in on Rhinoceros) is loaded onto the Robot’s controller and the printing begins.
  5. As the robot draws out the path of the module, the potentiometer wired to the control box and extruder allowed us to control the rate of extrusion
  6. After a print is complete the next canister is loaded, some prints required two canisters to print the whole module.This process was repeated over 90 times to produce the prototype facade. 

    The clay modules are then air­dried until “bone dry” and sent to the kiln to be fired. In the prototype it is attached onto a laser cut steel frame, but we imagine the method of attachment and assembly could vary based on the building.

How long did it take to make it real?

The whole process from building an extruder, designing the facade, and producing a prototype and scaled model was approximately 2 months.

How did you build it?


ABB IRB 120 robot arm, Ryobi caulking gun

Control Box:

Arduino Uno, Potentiometer, Capacitors, Toggle Switch, Mosfet


CV90 (Mixture of sand and porcelain)


Clay, Steel frame

Scaled model of the MIT Media Lab: 
Wood, 3D printed facade (ABS Plastic)