Design. This weird 3-D printed brick can cool your house

BEFORE THERE WERE electric fans or central air conditioning, there was evaporation.

For centuries, people living in hot, arid climates have harnessed the natural occurrence of evaporating water to cool their homes, often through something called the Muscatese Evaporative system. In this low tech set-up, a wooden lattice covers the windows while a porous, water-filled ceramic jar sits inside it. As the air passes through the lattice, the water inside the jar evaporates, depositing a stream of cool air into the home.

As far as air conditioning goes, the passive cooling system was inexpensive and energy-efficient. It also happens to be far more relevant today than you might’ve guessed, as proven by a new project from 3-D printing company Emerging Objects.

The Oakland-based company has translated the phenomenon of evaporative cooling into a 3-D printed ceramic brick it’s calling the Cool Brick. This hand-sized chunk of ceramic is essentially a hybrid of the wooden lattice and ceramic jar rolled into a single, lightweight slab. According to the designers, the porous material is able to soak up water like a sponge, so when air passes through it (much like the wooden lattice), the water held in the micropores evaporates and introduces a cooling effect.

Emerging Objects is best known for its exploration of material. It’s made 3-D printable cement polymers, wood, rubber composites from pulverized tires and now ceramic. Though the company functions in the realm of 3-D printing and technology, its co-founder Ronald Rael has long been interested in more traditional forms of architectural building. As a professor at University of California Berkeley, Rael has researched earth architecture for years (he wrote abook on the subject in 2008) and is quick to point out that there are clear parallels between earth-built structures and 3-D printing. “Traditional earthen structures are really 3-D printed,” he says. “They’re additively manufactured, mud clump by mud clump, mud brick by mud brick.”

It makes sense then, that combining the two techniques—traditional construction and digital processes like 3-D printing—could result in new, sustainable applications. The Cool Bricks, like using dirt or mud, require no molds and formwork, which reduces waste. The bricks fit together like puzzles pieces bound by mortar, and each has a pattern marked by slight protrusions. When stacked on top of each other, the wall creates a built-in shading, which protects the interior from transferred heat.

In theory, if you lived in an arid climate you could construct an entire wall or home from Cool Bricks to act as a your cooling system. Instead of running an electricity-hungry AC, you could water your bricks and control temperature based on airflow. Sure, it’s far less precise than central air systems, but it comes with the tradeoff of sustainability and money saved.

You can see the Cool Brick in Data Clay: Digital Strategies for Parsing the Earth at San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Design until April 19. (Wired)

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