Architectural Ceramic Assemblies

A Collaborative Research Model for Industry Engagement



Photo of Omar Khan

Omar Khan

Associate Professor

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

Photo of Bill Pottle

Bill Pottle

Director of Business Development

Boston Valley Terra Cotta

Photo of Mitchell Bring

Mitchell Bring

University at Buffalo (SUNY)



This paper documents a six year academia/industry collaboration between researchers at the Department of Architecture, University at Buffalo (SUNY) and the Boston Valley Terra Cotta Company. For the company, it was an essential undertaking to be able to meet the design challenges in a globally competitive marketplace. For the Department of Architecture, it meant fulfilling the three core tenets of its mission: professional education, advancing the profession through significant research and outreach, and economic development by growing the number and quality of jobs available in Western New York.

The engagement involved faculty and students developing new tools and work flows to facilitate better responses to Boston Valley’s architectural clients. They assisted with the design development phase as well as improving the manufacturing processes that resulted in several award winning building projects. While the faculty taught classes to company employees and set technology agendas with senior management, the students themselves became the real change agents. The factory floor became the proving ground for the introduction of 3D scanning, parametric modeling, digital modeling, 5 axis CNC milling, 3 axis wire cutting, computational fluid dynamics for extrusion die design, post extrusion ruled surface cutting, and numerous CAD/CAM innovations.

Furthermore, the collaboration has expanded beyond specific projects into the annual Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW); a forum for a worldwide collective of architects, facade engineers, ceramic artists, architectural manufacturers, university faculty and students to develop bio-climatically responsive facades and surfaces. This week-long eworkshop’s goal is to educate the architectural profession about ceramics, test the state of the art in terra cotta manufacturing and develop new research agendas that can be undertaken through professional, manufacturing and academic partnership.

Embedded Research - Boston Valley Terra Cotta and the University at Buffalo, Department of Architecture

Boston Valley Terra (BVTC), originally named Boston Valley Pottery was established as a brick producer in the 1880’s. In the 1980’s, it was purchased by the Krouse family and rebranded

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Case 1 - Photogrammetry: A Technology for Enabling Digital Craft

BVTC’s standard practice for restoration projects involved the removal of the original historic ornament from the building, block by block. Some of these pieces would be considerably damaged and broke

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Case 2 - Digital Workflow: Design Development with Manufacturing

The architects at Machado Silvetti were exploring a complex tiled surface for the Asian Art Study Center at the Ringling Museum of Art. They had already investigated other cladding materials

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Case 3 - Inventing New Tools: CNC Ceramic Wire Cutter

Graduate student Peter Schmidt was one of the student researchers on the team in the Meshlab. When it came to doing his Master of Architecture thesis, he identified a technological

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Architectural Ceramic Assemblies Workshop (ACAW)

The Meshlab has been absorbed into BVTC’s corporate structure, with many of the students that worked in it now employed by the company and leading its digital modeling and fabrication

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Conclusion and Future Directions

Our engagement with Boston Valley Terra Cotta has had at its center a desire to affect manufacturing by narrowing the gap between ideation and production. Adoption of digital technologies for

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Boston Valley Terra Cotta, Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART)

Rights and Permissions

Banham, R. The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment. The University of Chicago Press; 2nd edition, 1984.

Cortright, Joseph. "Making Sense of Clusters: Regional Competitiveness and Economic Development." (accessed September 28, 2017).