During the summer of 2014, Professors Qi Zhu in architecture and Juan Santiago in ceramics collaborated on teaching a new experimental course sponsored by the National Science Foundation for mold making for ceramic slipcasting utilizing 3D digital modeling and CNC technology.
The class was developed as an experimental collaboration to pursue the capabilities of newly acquired CNC routers to create slip casting forms from plaster. A number of students participated and the class was crosslisted as a dual art and architecture course. This intersection of art and architecture as well as traditional ceramic craft and fabrication methods presented an exciting new territory for development and experimentation.
Digital meda and tools
The class focused on the use of digital tools such as Rhinoceros 3D and the three axis ShopBot CNC router. Together with a cross section of architecture students and ceramic art students, a variety of forms were developed - initially to explore the potentials for slipcasting for a variety of experimental shapes, and ultimately as a final project, to investigate how a modular system of hollow tiles could be developed to generate a system for a living wall which provided support for plants and irrigation on a vertical surface.
Moldmaking and slip casting
The course presented a variety of problems to solve as well as traditional skills to learn. Student first began by casting plaster blocks to generate slip casting molds. The blocks were cast in the engineering and architecture building in coddles and then cured for a period of time until fully hard. An interlocking positive and negative joint was formed in the blocks so that they could be stacked to generate forms that were of a variety of scales in depth. Concepts in casting were also taken into consideration - such as the amount of draft to provide release of the form from the block on vertical surfaces, and also intake and exhaust holes for pouring slip as well as releasing air during the casting process were developed.
Several months later, further castings were made for the San Mateo Maker Faire. These forms - which were developed by Professors Zhu and Santiago, explored a more expressive tooth to the CNC milling process, a bisque as well as a gunmetal finish and an expression of the draft as well as the intake and exhaust stacks in the final object.