Professor brings architecture into an all-digital age

Bruce Walton

Building Bytes from design lab workshop on Vimeo.

Architects can now use 3-D printers to make life-size building materials thanks to a Kent State professor’s invention.

Brian Peters, assistant professor of architecture at Kent State, was honored with the Research and Development Award by Architect Magazine for his invention called Building Bytes, a project which combines digital modeling and practical structure with architecture.

The invention replaced the plastic used in 3-D printers with clay to create four different types of life-size building materials. This allows architects to make a 3-D blueprint of structures and perfect the design before they start construction.

“This is the kind of newest tool that people are experimenting with and are interested in learning more about, and I would say 3-D printing is being used in a lot of different fields, and there’s a lot of great innovations happening and architecture is just one of them,” Peters said. “I think it’s really exciting to think about the possibilities of what you can do with 3-D printing in architecture.”

The magazine honored Peters and five other contestants with the research and development award out of more than 100 other submissions. According to Architect Magazine’s website, recipients of the award had inventions that stood out for their potential to combine architecture with intelligence, upgrade longstanding manufacturing, and construction methods and overhaul entire streetscapes and cities.

Bill Kreysler, one of three jurors who judged pieces for the R&D award, was skeptical at first of Peters’ project because, “clay has been extruded through a die for hundreds of years,” but then he admitted that Building Bytes, “does allow for objects that are refreshingly new, based on an understanding of the material. And that’s important because the more informed designers are about material properties, the more they can open doors to new ideas.”

Before coming to Kent State, Peters worked in Amsterdam on one of the largest 3-D printers in the world called the 3-D Print Canal House project, which was able to print room-sized objects. The experience inspired him to do his own research in working on a smaller scale of 3-D printing for architecture.

Once Peters began teaching at KSU, he had the idea of Building Bytes and collaborated with the ceramics department to use its clay to make bricks from a 3-D printer.

The College of Architecture and Environmental Design has benefitted from Peters’ project as well. Since Fall 2013, Peters has taught a 3-D printing architecture class where students learned about developing and printing their own 3-D bricks, tiles and other building materials and models. He said students are able to use their imagination to make building products with their own unique patterns and shapes.

“I think it demonstrates the interwovenness, if that’s a word, of creativity and technology and where it’s going,” said Douglas Steidl, dean of the college. “I think it demonstrates how old manufacturing techniques will be updated in the future.”

Peters will be meeting with structural engineers to test the potential size of structures that can be built with his bricks while continuing to perfect his invention. Peters looks forward to seeing what Building Bytes and 3-D printing can achieve for architecture in the future.

“I don’t know (what the future is for 3-D printing for architecture),” he said. “That’s what’s kind of exciting.”

Contact Bruce Walton at [email protected].