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Cephalic Structures: Robotically Printed Eco-Composites & Bio-Pastes

Research Open House 2024

A collection of bio printed objects are displayed on a white background.

Greg Sheward, Production Facilities Manager, Robotic Operations, Visiting Assistant Professor
Jason Vigneri-Beane, Professor

School of Architecture

Translucent structures stand on the floor. They look like tall roots with narrow catch vessels on the top. Similarly shaped black structures extend out of the translucent ones. There are plants growing out of the top of the black ones.
Greg Sheward and Jason Vigneri-Beane’s project displayed at the 2024 Research Open House. Photo Courtesy of Pratt Communications and Marketing.

Cephalic Structures is an on-going design research project that explores robotically printed fabrication processes for ecological micro-infrastructures. These structures are designed to have minimally invasive footprints that transform continuously into bulbous vessels holding water, soil, vegetation and roosts. In addition, they will have integrated environmental sensing technologies that allow citizen scientists to monitor environmental data that is locally harvested by the Cephalic Structure itself. Morphological features of these structural bodies are evolving to be structurally and materially efficient, seamless and topologically continuous, and resolvable by scripts that drive robots’ kinematic logics, speed, temperature and contoured assembly strategies.

The robotic printing process not only allows for seamless full-scale prototyping, but can also be programmed to print in segments that fuse a variety of new eco-materials together to form composite surface structures. This is critical because it simultaneously and paradoxically allows for continuous topological transformation and diverse material surface tectonics. Lightweight structural bodies can therefore capitalize on different kinds of material performances without excesses of assembly, mechanical connections, adhesives, and other points of failure. A continuous structural body could be printed to transition from a material with structural integrity to a porous or hydrophilic material that supports a water collection program. A structural material could be transitioned into a seeded material that has life-giving nutrients integrated into it for a horticultural program.

This series explores combinations of eco-materials such as recycled oyster shell flour, charcoal,  turmeric, beet extract, and spirulina.  The research as expanded into bio-pastes made from alginate, agar agar, wood pulp, oyster flour, (sodium silicate), natural dyes from our own Pratt Textile Dye Garden, courtesy of Gina Gregorio, and natural berry dyes + milkweed fibers from Regan Good of Pratt HMS.

Two objects that look like vases that are bio printed. The top halves of the vases are darker in color while the bottom halves are white.
A brown bio printed object. The layers of the object look almost like rope.
A yellow and green bio printed object. The layers of the object look almost like rope.