Since its inception in 2011, ECAlab (Environmental Ceramics for Architecture Laboratory) has developed a number of research programmes which look to explore the possibilities of ceramics for sustainable technologies, while examining the role of emerging digital technologies alongside traditional ceramic craftsmanship skills. ECAlab is founded and directed by Rosa Urbano Gutiérrez and Amanda Wanner, and is part of an international network sponsored by ASCER (Association of Ceramic Tile Manufacturers of Spain), which includes groups from the schools of architecture of Harvard University (USA), Darmstadt University (Germany), and a number of universities in Spain (Alicante, Barcelona, Castellón, Madrid, and Valencia).
We have developed our own collaborative experience in the UK, bridging disciplinary boundaries and bringing together the University of Liverpool, Leeds Beckett University, Liverpool Hope University, and Glyndwr University with leading professionals, designers, engineers, architects and ceramicists to realise projects with an environmentally sustainable focus. Ultimately our aim is to develop new applications for ceramics within an architectural context and introduce emerging designers with new ways of thinking about this material. Our research-led teaching programme has developed through either summer workshops or integrated into the teaching curriculum at the LSA at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The programmes include high-profile speakers, training in specialist software (parametric and algorithmic design, CAD/CAM techniques for ceramic materials, daylighting design and daylighting simulation tools), and training in ceramics manufacturing techniques. The resulting projects use digital platforms to design forms and utilise file to factory techniques, which are then ultimately interpreted by time served craftsmen to generate bespoke and crafted pieces. This final stage engages ceramic artists to share their expertise with us, to harness the unique qualitative expression of ceramics as a material. In the first 5 years we have engaged 140 students, and have produced 85 innovative digital designs and 42 full-scale physical prototypes that explore the innovative use of clay in architecture.