TECLA – Technology and Clay

The first eco-sustainable housing model 3D printed from raw earth

One of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

Metaphorically inspired by one of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, one that is forever taking shape, and based on an innovative 3D-printed circular housing prototype, TECLA is a new model for habitation that synthesizes MCA’s design philosophy.
The name TECLA - Technology and Clay - evokes the strong link between past and future combining the materiality and spirit of timeless ancient dwellings with the 21st-Century world of high-tech 3d printings.

It is an innovative home prototype in 3D-printing that integrates research into vernacular construction practices, climate studies, and bioclimatic principles, together with the use of natural and local materials. Developed in collaboration with WASP, TECLA was established in 2020 to satisfy the need for 0-km green housing. The project takes inspiration from the potter wasp to offer solutions to housing emergencies around the world, both in the peripheral areas of metropolitan cities and in the context of crises generated by mass migration and natural disasters. Driven by a desire to better respond to people’s needs, TECLA finds an answer for the “Earth” in the use of “earth.”

©Iago Corazza

Schematic map of the design process. Beginning with a series of general inputs, such as the analysis of the site and its climactic characteristics,
the general design strategies are identified, leading to a determination of the forms, construction materials, and detailed technical characteristics.
– Diagram by SOS

©WASP

Developed in collaboration with WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project), Mario Cucinella Architects began the TECLA initiative in 2019 and worked on protypes based around research on homelessness in different climates undertaken by SOS – School of Sustainability – the Postgraduate School founded by Mario Cucinella. The result is exemplary of an empathic relationship between the application of technologies and architecture, constituting a profound step-change in the provision of eco-housing.

  • Visual by SOS

  • Visual by SOS

  • Visual by SOS

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Exterior view of the Mumbai case study. The bioclimatic strategies were inspired by the principles of the typical vernacular architecture of countries with hot humid climates, characterized by tall, lightweight, ventilated structures

Summary chart of the optimization of the infill based on the humidity and temperature values (distribution and variation of the infill of the three case studies examined) – Diagram by SOS

One of the most important advantages offered by 3D printing technology as compared to traditional construction techniques is its extreme flexibility of form. Parametrization makes it possible to obtain complex and variable forms that until now were unthinkable. However, this freedom is not limited to the creation of new forms, as it also has important repercussions on building performance, as regards the building envelope. Based on the input of geometrical parameters and climate data, the characteristics of the building envelope change for each project to provide the best-performing configuration for the specific site. Three parameters are used to optimize the infill for the TECLA system: ventilation (entrusted to the outer layer), thermal insulation (created by filling the inner cavities with rice husks, an industrial by-product), and thermal mass (which increases with increased thicknesses of the “ribbing” in earthen material of the infill). The infinite combinations make it possi...

One of the most important advantages offered by 3D printing technology as compared to traditional construction techniques is its extreme flexibility of form. Parametrization makes it possible to obtain complex and variable forms that until now were unthinkable. However, this freedom is not limited to the creation of new forms, as it also has important repercussions on building performance, as regards the building envelope. Based on the input of geometrical parameters and climate data, the characteristics of the building envelope change for each project to provide the best-performing configuration for the specific site. Three parameters are used to optimize the infill for the TECLA system: ventilation (entrusted to the outer layer), thermal insulation (created by filling the inner cavities with rice husks, an industrial by-product), and thermal mass (which increases with increased thicknesses of the “ribbing” in earthen material of the infill). The infinite combinations make it possible to determine the optimal configuration for each type of climate, by increasing or decreasing some characteristics with respect to others. Thus, in the case of a very humid climate, the thermal mass − which can store unwanted humidity − is a critical aspect, and its increase corresponds with widely spaced ribs and a very thick ventilating layer. In the same way, in a rigid climate the insulation will become dominant with respect to the other layers, while limiting the amount of ventilation that puts the shell in contact with the cold outside air. The result, as summarized in the image with the optimization matrix, is an infill design that is based on a very simple concept and the use of local materials, and which is capable of adapting to the environmental context and ensuring the highest levels of internal comfort.

Elements of the infill, with each component defined according to its contribution to the general performance of the building envelope. The infill, composed of two layers with independent sinusoidal wave forms, varies according to such parameters as insulation, thermal mass, interstitial ventilation, and shading requirements. – Diagram by SOS

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TECLA shows what can be accomplished if we mindfully combine our technical knowledge with learnings from the past, reflecting upon how humans have developed the ability to build and develop resilient ecosystems, mindful of bioclimatic principles and the use of natural and local materials, and what lessons can be learned and applied to our precarious future. The use of an entirely local material allows for the reduction of waste and scraps. This and the use of raw earth make TECLA a pioneering example of low-carbon housing.

©Iago Corazza

3D printing technology permits a single dwelling unit to be built in just 72 hours, considerably less time than required by traditional construction practices. By using earth (mud) as a building material and paying careful attention to the design of the shell in terms of mechanical and thermal performance, the amount of waste and carbon emissions is greatly reduced. The technological aspects of the design include optimization of the form and of the earth mixture to ensure sufficient mechanical strength, and careful study of the infill (which constitutes the inner structure of each 3D-printed house), with its variability and adaptability to the local climate determined based on such environmental parameters as humidity, ventilation, thermal inertia, and shading.

Conceptual diagram of the methodology has led from the analytical research phase to the applied research project – Diagram by SOS

Axonometric drawing of the case study masterplan. The development of the masterplan, from the arrangement of the modules to the design of the exterior spaces, took into account the well-being of the village residents, to ensure user comfort both indoors and outdoors. – Diagram by SOS

©WASP

Much has been said about the infinite possibilities offered by 3D printing, but the real innovation lies in its application to the building industry. This is why MCA, in collaboration with WASP, a leading company in the sector, decided to make TECLA a reality. Massa Lombarda was chosen as the location in which to build the TECLA house. The prototype, with a floor area of approximately 50 sqm, is now being built at WASP’s technology park. The construction period has offered a chance to reflect on the challenges posed by the new technologies.

The prototype consists of two dome-like forms, one with the living area and the other with a bedroom and bathroom. Certain furnishing elements are formed together with the structure. Though the latter characteristic partly limits the flexibility of use of the spaces, it is particularly interesting for its ability to make the house ready to inhabit as quickly as possible. This is very important for some of the applications envisaged for the...

Much has been said about the infinite possibilities offered by 3D printing, but the real innovation lies in its application to the building industry. This is why MCA, in collaboration with WASP, a leading company in the sector, decided to make TECLA a reality. Massa Lombarda was chosen as the location in which to build the TECLA house. The prototype, with a floor area of approximately 50 sqm, is now being built at WASP’s technology park. The construction period has offered a chance to reflect on the challenges posed by the new technologies.

The prototype consists of two dome-like forms, one with the living area and the other with a bedroom and bathroom. Certain furnishing elements are formed together with the structure. Though the latter characteristic partly limits the flexibility of use of the spaces, it is particularly interesting for its ability to make the house ready to inhabit as quickly as possible. This is very important for some of the applications envisaged for the project. The prototype project in Massa Lombarda is not limited to presenting a single, isolated building, but rather, it is the first part of the masterplan that TECLA plans to gradually complete: a piece of city, not connected to the grid, that will be capable of creating a loop for recycling water (hence the presence of the pond) and energy. In this way the construction process becomes even more innovative and efficient; TECLA aims to create small smart-communities that are as independent as possible from grid-distributed services and capable of self-producing, distributing or recycling water, energy, and waste.

©Iago Corazza

©Iago Corazza

©Iago Corazza

©Iago Corazza

©Iago Corazza

Detailed axonometric section of the TECLA prototype – Diagram by SOS

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