10 questions with … Brian Peters
Architect and artist by training, Brian peters merged the two into a separate career crossing the two worlds. Its support is the ceramic printed in 3D. So manufacturing goes into the mix. So is the junction between the high-tech digital realm and the traditional and artisanal oven drying and glazing techniques that are part of the process. His works span the gamut from freestanding screens and murals to large-scale installations commissioned by public institutions such as the State of New Jersey, the Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Carnegie Museum of Art. Architects are also clients, among them Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. Everything is created in Peters’ studio in Carnegie, Pa., Outside Pittsburgh, as is the residence he shares with his wife Daphne, assistant professor at the Carnegie Mellon School of Design, and children Matthias, 6 years old, and Zoe, 3 years old. Peters, however, is a citizen of the world. He lived in Barcelona and Amsterdam, after seven years in Chicago and holds a BA in Studio Art from Calvin College (Grand Rapids), an MA in Architecture from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master’s degree in advanced architecture from the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, Barcelona.
Interior Design: What sparked your interest in architecture and art?
Brian Peters: I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan as the youngest of four children. My father taught history in high school; my mother was a nurse. Art, architecture, and design weren’t of much interest to other members of my family, but a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House sparked mine. In high school, I realized that commercial furniture design leaders like Steelcase, Herman Miller, and Haworth were all in the Grand Rapids area.
ID: You had a career rich in travel beginnings, starting in Barcelona. What attracted you to this bustling city?
BP: I was working as an architect in Chicago when I decided to go back to school and dive into emerging areas of digital design and manufacturing, like 3D printing. At the time, the IACC was one of the few institutions offering a degree in advanced architecture focusing on what they called “digital tectonics.” We already knew the city. [Brian and Daphne met in Barcelona during a study abroad program]. After I finished my second master’s degree, I stayed and taught at the university for another year.
ID: Then it was Amsterdam. How did it happen?
BP: I was hired by DHS as an architect and invited to design an idea for an interesting temporary pavilion. After spending two years working with emerging technologies, I came up with the idea of creating a giant 3D printer, which could then 3D print pavilions on a small scale. I was able to make this idea a reality by collaborating with specialists such as 3D printing experts, mechanical engineers and material extrusion experts.
ID: What was the catalyst that led to 3D printing as an artistic medium?
BP: My exploration of 3D printed ceramics started during a residency in a ceramic center in the Netherlands. I was working with bioplastics for the large-scale 3D printer with DUS, but started to question the use of plastics. I was curious to see if I could hack existing 3D printers to use a more durable material like ceramic. This first exploration led to the Building Bytes project, [a collection of 3D-printed ceramic bricks]. It was launched during Dutch Design Week 2012 in Eindhoven and exhibited worldwide.
ID: How has the project evolved?
BP: Initially, Building Bytes was a speculative prototype. I spent the next four years expanding the process, building larger custom 3D printers, experimenting with various design options, and learning more about ceramics and glazing. Once I felt I had a solid foundation, I started looking for public art commissions. In 2017, I dedicated my practice solely to the creation of 3D printed ceramic works for art installations.
ID: How does your process work?
BP: Once I have developed a pattern and shape, I translate two-dimensional sketches and drawings into digitally modeled 3D geometries that will be materialized in space. The parametric design process allows me to explore scale, dimensionality, and the relationship between overall shape and infills before I start working with the physical material. I then 3D print a small-scale prototype and use it to inform the next round of prototypes. Experimentation and prototyping are key aspects of my work. The final pieces then dry for several days. After the first baking, they are glazed by hand using traditional artisan methods and baked again.
ID: How are most of your commissions made?
BP: Some clients have approached me with specific commissions in mind. Others have come through referrals. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s studio asked me to create ceramic wall installations for a tech’s new office in Pittsburgh. It was the first order of an architectural firm, and the collaboration with their team was a rich experience. Most of my public art projects were commissioned through the traditional proposal process.
I am delighted to participate in the next ICFF in November. It will be wonderful to have feedback directly from the design community. I look forward to the potential projects that may result.
ID:. You were a NYCxDESIGN finalist for your Polsky screen. Tell us about it.
BP: One of my first large-scale public art commissions was for a program in Akron, Ohio that activates empty storefronts with temporary installations. I developed a block design inspired by the ornate terracotta facade of the historic Polsky building. The unique bow tie shape of the block allows them to be installed for both temporary and permanent projects. For the former, the blocks are stacked and support each other without the need for mortar or grout. For permanent placement I work with professional tile installers.
ID: Where do you get your inspiration from?
BP: I am inspired by the subtleties of flora, the art of patterns and the complex geometries of contemporary forms. There is great beauty in our surroundings, and I am often inspired on walks in urban areas or on hikes in state parks. For orders, I look for the unique contexts of projects.
ID: What are you reading, watching, listening to?
BP: I currently read books on running small businesses. I watch comedies because during these crazy times I need a good laugh. Music always plays in my studio, from rock-a-billy to electronic sound, indie rock and blues. It’s an eclectic mix.