This summer two faculty from the Center for Design Research– Dr. Nathan King and RJ Weaver expanded an engagement with long-term collaborator from Iowa State University, Shelby Doyle AIA, by testing new modes of making in collaboration with Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Graduate School colleagues at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design in 2009, Nathan and Shelby were part of the early development of novel 6-axis robotic clay printing technology. The two have continued related work in parallel, developing the Center for Design Research – Design Robotics Laboratory and Studio (Virginia Tech) and the Computation & Construction Lab and Architectural Robotics Lab (Iowa State) respectively over the last decade where Doyle is an Associate Professor of Architecture and Stan G. Thurston Professor of Design Build. 

With RJ Weaver, an expert in additive manufacturing workflows and faculty lead of Virginia Tech’s Additive Manufacturing and Prototyping Lab (AMP Lab) in the College of Architecture Art and Design the team and three of the CDR’s industrial robotic arms were part of a 3-week residency at the famed craft school on Deer Isle Maine.

As part of a 3-week residency at Haystack, the team and their robots worked with students, artists, and craftspeople to explore opportunities for diversified access to robotic fabrication technology. During the first week led by RJ Weaver, the CDR team participated in a nascent program called Haystack Labs  alongside faculty and students from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms where they developed accessible digital workflows for robot motion control with a focus on 6-axis 3D clay printing and experimented with the creation of forms developed using Artificial Intelligence (AI). During the following weeks Doyle served as a Fab Lab resident in the CBA founded Haystack Fab Lab.

Weaver and Doyle collaborated with well-known artist Timea Tihanyi on a workshop entitled “Material-Human-Machine: Experimental Possibilities in Clay “ 3D Printing” where students were afforded access to both 3-axis and 6-axis robotic printing tools. The results helped to advance the development of the CDR’s accessible computational design and digital fabrication tools. 

Dr. King, co-Director of the CDR who has taught courses relating to digital design and fabrication technologies in clay for over a decade at Harvard, UPenn, Virginia Tech, and beyond stated that “…when using robots to print clay parts in the early days, we were focused on enhancing building performance through custom façade elements. Since then, many others have taken clay printing to the next level(s) with commercial tools and advanced code—often with a creative bent. The more people that gain access to these kinds of tools, the cooler (and more fun) things become, the greater the possibility, and the more enhanced the creative expression. I can’t imagine a better collaborator than Haystack to help expand access. Their commitment to craft but openness to exploration of new technology is awesome. We are very much looking forward to more work together!”

RJ, a recent graduate of Industrial Design and current VT faculty, provided the foundation for the tour-de-force by designing tooling (digital and physical) and working side-by-side with Haystack residents over the duration of the program. For RJ,  “Being introduced to computational design softwares and robotic manufacturing as an undergrad greatly expanded my view on what can be possible within our field. The democratization of new tools only provides more creative possibilities, and it is quite empowering to see our students so curious to open these doors and discover new ways of craft with us. I strive everyday to create more accessible systems for advanced design, and supporting workshops at Haystack with highly motivated students was an enlightening experience.”

Shelby, who in addition to her roles at Iowa State, serves as the President of the international Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), believes that  “Craft is “technology” just as much as robots are “technology”. It’s exciting that Haystack is willing to bring these forms of technology and making together. It’s important to my teaching and research that who is a “technologist” is an inclusive and expansive term and programs such as this push at those boundaries.”

“With the reconfiguration of the College of Architecture Art and Design…, Dr. King says,.. we have the opportunity to engage beyond disciplinary boundaries and we hope by expanding access to our technologies across all the college programs, we can create new opportunities for students and faculty alike. Our Haystack engagement helped test ways of working that will enhance this opportunity. “


The CDR team plans to continue its effort to democratize design technology and will host a Design Robotics workshop with Hampton and Howard Universities in the fall at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design in Richmond VA in association with their exhibit “Modeling a Vision”.

For more information about the Center for Design Research and the School of Architecture Digital Technology Initiatives please contact Dr. Nathan King (