Enthusiasts of 3D printing have long touted its immense potential for the construction industry, pointing in particular its ability to produce complex structures and components with flawless accuracy.

The sheer versatility and precision of additive printing enables engineers to design intricate parts without too much concern over the challenges that their production may entail.

Researchers from Cornell University, working in collaboration with the Sabin Design Lab, have taken advantage of the remarkable capabilities of additive printing to develop a lightweight, interlocking brick with a complex structure that dispenses with the need for an adhesive medium.

According to its developers, the PolyBrick is the world’s first mortarless 3D-printed brick, permitting the construction of resilient, high-strength walls via the incorporation of an organic design of interlocking geometries.

The brick is equipped with dovetailed joints which are tapered like those in woodworking. The tapered sides of individual bricks can be oriented in relation to the wall to achieve maximum structural resilience.

“Each brick/component has an embedded intelligence at both the local and global scales,” said Jenny Sabin, associate professor of architecture at Cornell, and senior research associate Martin Miller, a visiting critic at Cornell, in a joint statement.

“At the local scale, there are geometric manipulations and exchanges built into the algorithms connecting components with their adjacent neighbours. Within this algorithm, there is also a global awareness of the components’ orientation in Euclidian space.

“This awareness allow the aggregative system to implement proper taper angle to ensure gravity will lock the bricks in place.”

The structural lattice of each individual brick can be delicately adjusted based on a broad range of data in order to influence various aspects of the finished wall. These can include structural optimisation, curvature and form, view angles, light filtration, as well as accommodations for the strategic placement of plumbing and mechanical building systems.

Lego bricks incorporated into concrete structure

Lego bricks incorporated into concrete structure

The bricks are a made from a lightweight ceramic material, and are first printed as greenware before being fired. The product achieves major efficiencies; its interlocking structure removes the need for mortar as an adhesive, while the porous nature of the structural lattice also make use of less raw material than conventional solid bricks.

The use of 3D printing to manufacture the product further ensures that no material is wasted needlessly during the production process.