Team UB+Alfred - Reconfigurable Ceramic Stack Interlock System, inspired by a unique traditional wood joinery
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Reconfigurable Ceramic Stack Interlock System, inspired by a unique traditional wood joinery

Team UB+Alfred

Special Projects  /  Completed
Team UB+Alfred

The project is inspired by a unique traditional wood joinery method that uses a dowel as a structural integration between two identical pieces. The knowledge about the joint is rooted in the sustainable use of materials to get a longer span from limited member sizes. By achieving both jamming capacity and operability, the reconfigurable joinery method is designed. The inter-university research team collaborated on multiple experimental prototypes combining hands-on clay work and parametric post-processing cut using waterjet.

In response to the climate crisis and the imminent mission to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is critical to reduce the energy consumption of buildings. The conventional, permanent building facade does not actively respond to the differing needs from varying weather conditions pertaining to both heating and cooling loads throughout changing seasons. The prototype aims to provide the potential to reconfigure the wall seasonally from sun shading wall outside of the wall to the thermal mass inside. Without using high-tech dynamic facade systems, the suggested reconfigurability can provide an alternate resiliency to the practice of building envelope.

Reconfigurability and reusability provide a broad sustainability benefit to our built environment. The transformation from a tall and thin shading structure to a low and thick thermal mass is based on the unique stack-interlock method derived from traditional wood joinery. One block interlocks with two blocks by the phenomenon of jamming, and another block can interlock with the other side of two blocks, completing a four-block module. This module can grow in an organic manner by the control of 3D printed dowels, while the blocks are identical and modularized. The project is presented at Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop organized by Boston Valley Terra Cotta and University at Buffalo.

A full-scale prototype is completed to test the structural integrity and assembly/disassembly process. A series of finite element (FE) analyses are performed to check the structural integrity of the modularized unit block. Based on 1.02 m tall, 9.94 kg, four-unit module for the building scale applicability, we find that the unit block can take up to a vertical external force of 710 N and a horizontal external force of 600 N without any terracotta failure. Furthermore, to see the effect of the ABS dowels for the stress concentrations, we have also performed a separate set of additional simulations without the ABS dowels. The analyses reveal a roughly 30% increase in the loading capacity of the unit block when the ABS dowels are employed for the connections. These FE analyses predict that a meter-scale stack-interlock system made of terracotta can be safely assembled without terracotta failure despite its high mass density. The stress concentrations can be substantially reduced by employing the ABS dowels, and the use of dowels also improves both the load-bearing capacity and the flexibility of the considered structure.

The ‘X’ block implies contact faces on the top and bottom of the block which is processed to provide absolute accuracy. The other right and left sides are free from the stacking system. Depending on the application, the opening ratio can be varied from opaque to porous. Since the blocks are modularized, the color pattern of an assembly will transform in the subsequent assembly with a completely different color pattern.


 New York, USA
 0 mq
 Team UB+Alfred
 Jin Young Song, Dan Vrana, Jongmin Shim, Jiatao Wu, Johnathan Hopp, and Shawn Murrey. Student Researchers: Phuong Vu, Sakeena Nazir, Nicole Sarmiento, Lydia Ho, Adrian Cruz, Margeaux Claude, Corwyn Lund, Jaclyn Head, Mackenzie McDonald
 Boston Valley Terra Cotta
 Boston Valley Terra Cotta


Team UB+Alfred is an interdisciplinary research effort combining Architecture, Structural Engineering, Ceramic Art, and Manufacturing. Song and Vrana are faculty members at University at Buffalo Architecture Department. Song is a registered architect whose research interest is in alternative construction systems based on instability applications. Vrana‘s specialty is in advanced fabrication using parametric control of various subtractive and additive machines. Shim and Wu are a professor and a researcher at the Department of Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering at UB who focus on Finite Element Analysis of interlocking systems. Hopp and Murrey are an industrial designer and a kiln specialist at the New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred University. Boston Valley Terra Cotta, a global leader in the architectural terra cotta industry, supports the study. Graduate students from both universities have participated in the research and fabrication.


#Finalist #Buffalo  #New York, USA  #Exhibition  #Terracotta cladding  #Terracotta  #Design  #Team UB+Alfred 

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