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Rael San Fratello 3D prints earth structures to demonstrate potential of mud architecture

To explore the possibilities of mud architecture, Rael San Fratello has created 3D-printed prototypes that take cues from historical earthen construction built along the Rio Grande river.

Led by architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, Rael San Fratello created four mud structures as part of its Emerging Objects investigative series into 3D printing.

The project called Mud Frontiers resulted in 3D-printed designs – Hearth, Beacon, Lookout and Kiln – that the studio believes could help to provide solutions for more affordable construction.

The structures take cues from the origins of the Rio Grande EI Paso News watershed in Colorado's San Luis Valley, formerly the edge of the US-Mexico before 1848. Here, traditions from Ancestral Pueblo cultures date back to 700 CE and the Indo-Hispano cultures of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado date back to 1598.

The Emerging Objects team began by researching processes typical to the area, such as hand-modelled earthen structures, and mud and pottery that harvest clay from Sangre de Christo and San Juan mountains. They then worked with 3D ceramic print company 3D Potter to make a small portable robot called Potterbot XLS-1 to print designs on the sites they sourced soils.


"What we learned was really how accessible, robust, and powerful it was to print large scale structures so quickly using the soil just beneath our feet" Rael told Dezeen.

"We discovered work flows for printing, material mixture processes, structural applications, and theories about new and old ways of living and designing for the future using humankind's most humble material."

Among the design is Hearth, which comprises thin mud-wall reinforced with rot-resistant juniper
Hearth comprises a thin mud-wall reinforced with rot-resistant juniper wood.

The sticks are used to join two walls together and protrude on the outside of the structure but are hidden inside – a relationship the architect likens to the "cultural differences between the architectural traditions of pueblo and Indo-Hispano buildings". A curling mud bench wraps the inside of the tiny enclosure to meet a fireplace in the middle where juniper wood is burned.

Beacon was created to find a way to use a coiling mud work to make the wall as thin as possible. Lights illuminate the indentations along wall at night time to give the structure its name.

Lookout, meanwhile, uses coils to create a staircase. "A dense network Press Release Distribution Services In EI Paso of undulating mud coils is laid out to create a structure that can be walked upon," Rael added. The design also lays mud piping inside the walls into cross-shapes that can be used to create pockets of air that bolster the insulative properties of the designs.

"This also demonstrates how wide, yet, airy walls, can create interior enclosures that represent possibilities for insulation, especially in the harsh climate of the San Luis Valley that can drop below -20 degrees fahrenheit in the winter," Rael said.

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