Feb.2, 2015 | By Kira

Although the temperature has dropped below zero where I am currently writing and I can see snow falling just outside my window, in many parts of the world scorching heat and dry air are the norm. Unfortunately, easy access to air conditioning is not always a reality, leaving thousands at risk of discomfort, dehydration and even heatstroke.

Yet Virgina San Fratello and Ronald Rael, the creative masterminds behind The Emerging Objects Corporation, have potentially found a way to cool indoor air temperatures in desert environments using traditional materials, and far less energy and resources than regular air conditioning.

The process is known as evaporative cooling, whereby water vapor is added to the air, causing the temperature to drop. In extremely dry climates, evaporative cooling also has the benefit of adding moisture back into the air, making it more comfortable to breath. The principle dates as far back as ancient Egypt and Persia, long before the advent of refrigeration. In the US, patents for evaporative coolers (also known as desert coolers or swamp coolers) began as early as 1906.

Image via Nature Cool

San Fratello and Raelhave re-appropriated this ancient technique and combined it with the modern possibilities offered by 3D printing in order to create the Cool Brick, a masonry system used to build walls that passively cool interiors.

The Muscatese WIndow

The system was inspired by the Muscatese Evaporative cooling window, which combines a wood screen and a porous ceramic vessel filled with water. Their version, however, is comprised of 3D printed porous ceramic bricks set in mortar. Each brick absorbs water like a sponge, and is designed as a three dimensional lattice that allows air to pass through the wall. As air moves through the brick, the water that is held in the micro-pores of the ceramic evaporates, bringing cool air into the interior. The result is cool, moist air that requires less energy than other refrigeration or air conditioning techniques.

In addition, the bricks are modular and interlocking, so that they can be stacked together to make a screen, or assembled in various ways to suit the needs of the room where they are being used. The 3D lattice creates a strong bond when set in mortar, and the shape of the brick creates a shaded surface on the wall to keep a large percentage of the wall’s surface cool and protected from the sun.

The project was sponsored in large part by TEHTON 3D, a Nebraskan company that specializes in custom applications for ceramic 3D printing. Ceramic is one of the oldest industrial materials used by man, and is just another way that San Fratello and Rael are incorporating history and tradition into their truly innovative design.

If it gains traction, the Cool Brick could have significant implications for those living in desert environments that do not have access to regular air conditioning. In fact, even those who do could benefit from its low-cost and low-energy properties. Additionally, it demonstrates how ancient techniques and materials can be re-appropriated thanks to 3D printing technologies in ways not previously imagined.

Indeed, through The Emerging Objects Corporation, San Fratello and Rael seek to experiment with and improve the future of architecture through the lens of 3D printing. “We want to question the practice of architecture through experimentation and provocation,” they write. “We want to know if we can 3D print buildings, not as some futuristic proposition, but by creating a fundamental architectural component—the 3D printed brick.”

Creators Virginia San Fratello and Ronald Rael

The Cool Brick can be viewed at Data Clay: Digital Strategies for Parsing the Earth, the first public exhibition to present the growing movement of architects, artists, and designers in the field of ceramic design and digital fabrication, exploring the medium of ceramics coupled with digital technologies. The exhibition will take place from January 17 to April 19, 2015, at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, and additional ceramic, 3D printed projects can be viewed here.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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Rocks 4 rocks wrote at 2/5/2015 8:36:29 AM:

You must be kidding. Two problems. First, the problem that every evaporative cooler has: water is scarce in the hot dry places where evaporative cooling works well. Second, water always has some minerals dissolved in it that crystallize out when you remove the water. A traditional swamp cooler has an active flow and a reservoir that you have to empty to keep these from building up, but with these "smart bricks", the pores in the bricks are going to fill up with lime and gypsum, and pretty soon they'll be "dumb bricks". Really it's just swamp cooler media. The only thing that makes swamp cooling viable is high CFM airflow. I lived with evaporative cooling only (no refrigerated a/c) for 25 years and a small house needs at least a 3000 CFM squirrel cage fan encased in a frame of three or four water soaked paper lattice or Excelsior wood fiber pads providing the moisture. The biggest problem is cooling media degradation due to calcification from hard water. As the water evaporates it leaves minerals behind. Some minerals do get suspended in the air, making a fine white dust, but most of the "lime" rinses through the media and is collected by a pump that runs it through the media again. The water becomes supersaturated in a day and dumps the precipitate on the media as the water evaporates and the temperature of the pad drops. Pumps with a "purge cycle" mitigate the issue somewhat but the media (and pump, and tubing) still becomes plugged and brittle in at most two seasons. Do you print a new wall at that point, or use purified water from the start? A new wood fiber pad is under four bucks (google "swamp cooler pads"), so I don't see how printing media is going to be useful. Passive cooling with wind power is right out, if the air is not moving fast enough it just warms up and then you have heat and humidity.

Bogdan wrote at 2/3/2015 8:52:39 AM:

Amazing article ! I didn't know people had air cooling systems in Egypt and Persia, its great when ancient technique is reimagined by using newest technology !

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