1 Brian Peters studio photo.

At the intersection of ceramics, architecture, and technology lives Brian Peters, an award-winning artist and innovator located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who is expanding the notion of what clay can do for contemporary interior and exterior spaces.

Building a Career

Peters’ interest in art and architecture started early. He was raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he was exposed to great design—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House, as well as contemporary furniture companies such as Herman Miller and Steelcase. He found clay and sculpture during his undergraduate years studying studio art at Calvin University, where he also started taking pre-architecture classes. From there, he studied in the Master of Architecture program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, then in the Master in Advanced Architecture program at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) in Barcelona, Spain, and his career focus remained in architecture for several years while he continued to pursue his passion for sculpture and ceramics on the side through public-art commissions. 

2 Prairie Cord, 3D-printed ceramic blocks.

The two started to come together in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, when Peters got a job at DUS Architects and was given the opportunity to produce his own project. It was 2011 and a new world, with 3D printing just hitting the scene, so the project he decided to tackle was the creation of a large-scale 3D printer. He built the machine in a shipping container, and from that project, the 3D Print Canal House Living Lab was launched, an internationally acclaimed design-and-build project where a life-size canal house was 3D-printed as research into new global housing solutions and market explorations. The 3D Print Canal House Living Lab was the world’s first movable 3D-printing pavilion capable of printing full-scale structures (8 feet in length × 8 feet in width × 15 feet in height) using bioplastic. The project linked over 25 international partners and received global press attention, truly putting Brian Peters on the map and in the forefront of this digital technology. 

3 Brian Peters in his studio with one of his ceramic 3D printers.

Combining Code with Ceramics and Clients

At a subsequent residency at The European Ceramic Work Centre (EKWC) in Oisterwijk, The Netherlands, in 2012, his exploration of 3D printing in clay began. He hacked a 3D printer to print clay instead of plastic and was one of the first artists to re-imagine not only ceramics, but also architecture—building in clay. The project explored the possibilities of combining a traditional building material (ceramics) with a new fabrication technique (3D printing) to rethink an ancient building component (bricks) for the construction of experiential spaces. Peters spent four years testing materials and scaling up his capacity, and soon a new business was born, focused on the digital fabrication of 3D-printed ceramic bricks, blocks, and tiles. Now in its fifth year, his business, Brian Peters Studio, continues to evolve and innovate the field of 3D-printed ceramics.

Working in two distinct scales, Peters collaborates with clients, architects, designers, and fabricators to design and install architectural components for home, office, and public spaces that explore form, technique, materiality, and light. Brian Peters’ work consists of ceramic blocks and three-dimensional tiles that are designed by writing digital code, fabricated on custom 3D printers he hand builds, and then glazed and fired in a kiln. His work is site-specific and inspired by its context; therefore, for each commission he looks for inspiration to directly inform the pattern and form of his installations. He also explores intricate geometries and unique surface textures, as his work often incorporates the interaction of direct or indirect light.

4 10X, 8 ft. (96 m) in height, 3D-printed glazed stoneware blocks, concrete foundation, installed at a private residence in Guilford, Connecticut, 2020. 5 Eighth and Penn, 3D-printed ceramic blocks.

Working with code and machines does not mean that Peters’ hand is not evident. He is using cutting-edge technology, but still wed to his first love—the tradition of ceramics. Peters states, “I am not interested in the perfection of machine-made objects, but rather the art of integrating digital coding, custom-built technology, contemporary aesthetics, and natural clay.” 

Experimentation and Prototyping

He is inspired by the intricacies of nature, the artistry of patterning, and the complex geometries of contemporary form and architecture. Once he develops a pattern and form that inspires him, he translates his sketches and drawings into digitally modeled 3D geometries that will be materialized in space. His design process allows him to explore scale, dimensionality, and the link between the overall form and the intricate negative spaces before he begins working with the physical material.

A key aspect of Peters’ process is experimentation and prototyping. He enjoys physically hacking existing machines and all his work is made on 3D printers that he custom builds. He spends hours in his studio experimenting with clay bodies, scales, geometries, connections, and glazes. Each final piece is the result of countless prototypes. For commissioned projects, he provides clients with final prototypes for approval and then gets to work building his blocks with the help of two part-time employees. Using an earthenware clay body for interior projects and stoneware for exterior projects, each part is printed, refined by hand, dried for several days, and then bisque fired. Once bisque fired, they are glazed by hand and then glaze fired. 

6 Collective, 3D-printed ceramic blocks. 7 Metamorphosis, 3D-printed ceramic blocks.

Creative Expression

Peters secures projects by responding to requests for proposals for public projects, having a presence at architectural trade shows like The International Contemporary Furniture Fair, and through his ongoing relationships with architects and art consultants.

In 10X, installed at a private residence in Guilford, Connecticut, Peters developed a 3D-printed screen that was incorporated into a newly renovated 1960s mid-century modern home. The client was seeking a statement piece close to the entrance that is both contemporary and tied to classic design from the period. Peters found inspiration in breeze blocks, which are simple, extruded, cast-concrete blocks that were incorporated into many mid-century modern homes during the 1960s. He also explored the idea of a physical metamorphosis through a change in aperture. The stunning result, comprised of 100 3D-printed, glazed blocks installed on top of a concrete foundation, is a statement piece that changes throughout the day as sun and shadow make their own ephemeral mark on the piece.

8 Polsky Screen, 3D-printed ceramic blocks.

Peters’ wall installations often speak to transitions, which are expressed through changes in shape from one end of the piece to the other. For example, Metamorphosis is comprised of 40 ceramic tiles that morph from a rounded form into a more complex module. They fit together like a puzzle, where many parts, though all slightly different, make a whole. Similarly Collective 4 uses repetition and pattern to create a textured wall of identically shaped biomorphic tiles that gradually transition from one color to another. 

Clearly, Brian Peters has leveled up our notion of building blocks. He has merged the playful act of stacking blocks with real architecture and thrown in 3D design, digital technology, ceramics, and creative expression. The result is sophisticated, artful, and just plain stunning.

To learn more about Brian Peters Studio, visit www.brian-peters.com.     

the author Leigh Taylor Mickelson is an artist, writer, curator, and independent consultant working with arts businesses and nonprofits to help them develop and grow. Visit her website at www.leightaylormickelson.com to learn more.