2006-2010 : phd project

Flemming Tvede Hansen

Ph.d. thesis

Download and read my ph.d thesis:


Material-driven 3D digital form giving.

Experimental use and integration of digital media in the field of ceramics


Danish version


Short english version, including 4 papers from international peer reviewed conferences


Appendix to chapter 6 (Videos)


Appendix to chapter 7 (Videos)


Appendix to chapter 8 (Images)





This thesis is about experimental use and integration of digital media in the shaping process of artefacts in the field of ceramics. The aim of the research is firstly to support the ceramicist in working experimentally and exploratively by means of digital media, and secondly to contribute to an interdisciplinary discourse about the use of digital media within the field of ceramics. The project focuses on 3d form; hence 3d digital graphics and Rapid Prototyping (RP). “RP” is a common term for techniques for transforming 3d digital form into 3d physical form.


The research project is centred on two research questions: One question is about how knowledge and experience about form giving in the field of ceramics can be transferred to and utilized in 3d digital form giving. Another question is about what can be gained with such an approach and use of 3d digital form giving, - and how it can be utilized in a dynamic interplay with actual shaping of three-dimensional ceramic artefacts. The thesis is entitled “Material-driven 3D digital form giving. Experimental use and integration of digital media in the field of ceramics”. ”Material-driven form giving” is an approach to the process of giving form in the field of ceramics, which is defined and exemplified in the thesis. This approach is based on the idea of the ceramic material as a generative and responding potential in the form giving process, which can contribute unpredictable form solutions. Material-driven form giving is characterized by two levels; a first level which is to identify and refine a generative potential in a material; and a second level which is to transform and actualize this potential in a representative number of artefacts by interacting with the generative potential of the material. This idea of levels was inspired by Sanford Kvinter (2002), who describes how a virtual component is linked to an actual component by a dynamic and uncertain process. In this context, the virtual component can be seen as the potential of the ceramic material, which can be expressed in a wide range of artefacts.


The method of research was inspired by a PhD work by Dr. Katie Bunnell (2009), who proposed an open and emergent practice-based methodology for exploring the integration of digital technologies into her practice as a ceramic designer-maker. The method is explorative and experimental, which in this study means that the research questions and empirical series of experiments are produced and developed in the process of research. This approach can be seen as an instance of Schön’s “reflection in action” (Schön, 1983). Furthermore it is relevant to use the terms “practice based design research” (Biggs, 2002) and ”research through design” (Frayling, 1993), which for the present purpose can be defined as an experimental design practice that is part of the design research and contributes empirical data. The method explores how design research that includes experimental design practice, can utilize the researcher’s background as a practitioner, and make the practice central to the research.


A method of this kind was developed in the course of the present project, and named Method of Branching Experiment. It is characterized by an explorative approach based on the author’s interplay with techniques and materials, and by relying on a cluster of parallel and interdependent experiments within a defined frame – rather than single experiments. The method has shown how the parallel experiments can be seen as a dynamic system in which a number of unpredictable and surprising relationships can emerge and be exemplary for what can be done and how, within the context of the original research questions.


More specifically, the idea of material driven form giving was explored and exemplified by means of the author’s own experiments with 3d modelling and simulation software. This led to the concept of material driven 3d digital form giving. The experiments explore how the ceramist can utilize themes such as movement and metamorphosis in his work, by means of 3d digital form giving. The point of departure for these experiments was the use of dynamics in the animation program Real Flow. In the terminology of such 3d software, “Dynamics” is a common name for a number of digital tools designed for simulation of physical phenomena; e.g. liquids, wind, and gravity.


It is argued that dynamics in this sense can be seen as a generative and responding potential, which is comparable with the role of ceramic material, when used according to the idea of material-driven form giving, hence the name material-driven 3d digital form giving. Various artefacts were produced during the experiments by transferring digitally defined forms into ceramic materials by means of RP. These artefacts showed a potential to produce “dynamic conflicts”. Such conflicts contribute with a fluid boundary between fiction and reality, which reflects the above-mentioned use of techniques and materials.


The preliminary experiments using Real Flow raised new questions and hence new parallel experiments. For example, the use of dynamics in such commercial software can be said to represent an already defined way of thinking and giving form. This issue is discussed in relation to the ideas of Manuel De Landa (2001) and others, regarding how the use of digital media can reflect and emphasize a more personal way of form giving.


The results obtained so far encouraged an experimental development of a 3d digital tool named digital interactive form giving tool (DIF) in cooperation with a computer programmer. The experiment explores an interactive 3d digital drawing, which responds visually to the movement of the hand in a virtual 3d space using a wii remote as a device. The movement captured and digitalized by the wii forms the basis for a 3D physical model produced by means of RP, which expresses the movement in physical form. It is argued that such an approach represents a more personal way of material-driven 3D digital form giving, compared to the use of so-called commercial software.


In ceramics it is possible to obtain a very personal way of form giving by developing one’s own material and techniques, but the resulting artefact will more or less always exhibit the “signature” of the material given by nature. As a contrast it is argued, that DIF enables an exploration of properties, which are not bound to a material and by laws of physics. For example, the use of 3d digital media enables the designer to explore phenomena such as sound and movement of a hand, and to develop his own generative and responding dynamic systems. This enables a higher degree of complexity in the form giving process of an artefact.


It requires a thorough knowledge and experience to consider such a generative system and subsequently to transform and realize it in a particular context. It is argued that such an approach to 3d digital media is utilizing the experience that a ceramicist brings from practice, based on the idea of material-driven form giving.


Furthermore, it was explored and discussed how an artefact designed with DIF can contribute in interplay with the ceramic material. The experiment explores the RP produced artefact executed in a specially developed ceramic material. This allows a physical transformation and change of the artefact in the traditional kiln firing. And this, in turn, produces a dynamic interplay between the complexity in the digital form giving, and the complexity of the ceramic material of the artefact.


All in all, the thesis develops an experimental and explorative approach, combining digital media with experience rooted in the field of ceramics. Furthermore, the thesis points out the potential for the ceramicist in interdisciplinary collaboration with designers from fields such as interaction design and programming.


In future research it might be of interest to develop generative and responding systems for 3d form embedding tactility as well. Furthermore, the development of RP techniques based on ceramic materials utilizing the chemical transformation in the kiln firing is a topic worth exploring.


The thesis is mainly written in Danish, but during the project period four papers were published in English and presented at international peer reviewed conferences. Each of these papers reflects different aspects and views, which are discussed in the thesis. Two of the papers are focussing on practical experiments in the research project, while the other two papers are focussing on method, which is exemplified by the experiments.


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