New Architecture of Phase Change

Computer-Assisted Ice Construction

At McGill University (Montreal, Quebec) engineers and architects are working together to explore the possibilities of rapid prototyping (RP) systems for construction with ice.

James McGill statue: original in bronze, STL model, and RFP-constructed ice model.
A detailed account of the construction process for this part can be found here.

In 2006, Professors Pieter Sijpkes (School of Architecture) and Jorge Angeles (Department of Mechanical Engineering and Centre for Intelligent Machines) received a three-year $173,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) research creation grant for a project entitled New Architecture of Phase Change: Computer-Assisted Ice Construction. Based in the School of Architecture, this three-year study focuses on computer-controlled techniques for constructing objects at varying scales out of ice.

Other members of the project include: PhD student Eric Barnett, faculty members Thomas Balaban and David Theodore from the School of Architecture, Professor Damiano Pasini from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and students from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the School of Architecture. This ground-breaking ice construction research builds on McGill's expertise in rapid prototyping and engineering design for extreme environments.

Currently, the practical applications of this project include commercial and industrial part modeling, and construction for the ice-tourism industry. For instance, small-scale ice models represent economical alternatives to intricate 3D models of architectural objects, be they scale models of buildings, site models, or building details. Presently, casting techniques are being investigated in order to produce high-quality metal copies from ice originals. In the long term, inhabitable, environmentally-friendly structures will be built at the architectural scale using computer-assisted techniques, thus increasing the level of automation in an industry that is currently very labour intensive.


Construction process for an ice chain

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Video of the ice chain


Construction of Lucy, a Christian angel. The STL file was obtained from the Stanford 3D Scanning Repository


Scale model of one section of the Bacardi Rum Factory, designed by Félix Candela
The STL file was obtained from Princeton

Next: The History of Ice Construction