As research on new technologies evolves and they gradually enter the market, some begin to disrupt the way some industries work – 3D printing showing increasing potential to do so. There have been past experiments using 3D printing technologies in architecture, such as the 2015 pavilion showcased during Beijing Design Week. Several architecture studios have since adopted it worldwide to test innovative ideas and create models for their projects. Also known as additive manufacturing, it generates objects from a digital file by adding material one layer at a time. A growing number of firms are redefining their business strategy around it by integrating additive manufacturing into their production processes.

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Vulcan, the world’s largest 3D printed architectural pavilion by Laboratory for Creative Design (LCD), displayed at Beijing Design Week 2015_©Beijing Design Week
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3D laser printer_©Opt Lasers on Unsplash

HISTORY OF 3D PRINTING 

3D printing has been around since the late 20th century. Hideo Kodama, a Japanese innovator, started experimenting with printing materials in 1981. In 1999, researchers at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine successfully implanted a 3D-printed organ into a human, marking the start of advanced research and development in the following decade. 3D printing emerged in the open-source community in the 2000s. 

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3D printed prosthetics_©Erin Kidd

Although considered historically expensive, 3D printers are much more affordable today, with models costing less than $1,000. The growing availability and technological advancements have allowed several industries, like the building industry, to adopt 3D printing technologies into their workflow.

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Additive manufacturing in construction _©peri.com

MATERIALS

As the most frequently used material in construction, concrete is also a common substance used in additive manufacturing. Ceramics are another popular material for 3D printing, and local raw earth – clay, is used in the model TECLA designed by Mario Cucinella Architects from Italy and built by 3D printing specialists WASP, designed to respond to today’s climate emergency. 

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TECLA House_©Mario Cucinella Architects and WASP

Forust Corp., on the other hand, is an American company that uses sawdust and lignin as byproducts of the wood industry to print and rematerialize wooden parts. They have also demonstrated the application of texture and color mapping to give sawdust-based objects a realistic wood appearance. Other architectural studios have started to explore the possibilities of constructing things with materials like sand and metal, even experimenting with vegetative materials like mycelium and seed-impregnated soilPlastics are often used for small interior ornaments and utility items that can be printed from a small, personal 3D printer. They are also commonly used when printing architecture models.

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Sawdust screen by Forust_©3dprintingmedia.network

BENEFITS

3D printing technologies have demonstrated several benefits in their implementation in the building industry:

  • Considerably reduced production time due to the speed at which the machines operate; some of them can produce dwellings between 55 and 75 square meters in under 24 hours.
  • 3D printing can help provide solutions for emergency architecture and housing for the homeless, which has been tested and achieved by building refugee housing within a single day. 
  • Previously unthinkable shapes have now become easy to produce due to increased design flexibility thanks to additive manufacturing. Greater design freedom has paved the way for developing more intricate geometries. 
  • It is now essential to offer highly configurable products for companies to remain competitive. Unlike conventional manufacturing methods, 3D printing allows customization whenever customers seek change to satisfy their desire for personalized products.
  • As they are fully automated, 3D printers eliminate human error, and most of the production process doesn’t require human assistance.
  • Sustainability is attained by optimizing material consumption. Additionally, the need for scarce resources is reduced, and materials that don’t require much energy during construction can also be used in manufacturing. One of the world’s largest 3D printers created by WASP can build houses using local materials and green energy sources (hydro, wind, or solar power). Some 3D printers are also able to use recycled materials. Since fewer trucks are required to travel to building sites, transportation-related emissions and costs can be lower.
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3D Printing_©autodesk.com

Overall, 3D printing has led to cheaper construction with lower labor costs, less waste, more effective material utilization, improved personalization, and the ability to alter elements during construction. The technology poses a desirable influence on projects’ circularity. 

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A 3D printed architecture model _©archello.com

IS ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING THE FUTURE OF THE BUILDING INDUSTRY?

According to Wessel van Beerendonk, the Co-Founder of Studio RAP, the design, construction, maintenance, and reuse of buildings will undergo a revolution thanks to 3D printing, “This technology is one of the last missing links to enable a complete digital supply chain within the construction industry. In addition to efficiency and design freedom, there are also social benefits that contribute to a level playing field in which companies and individuals across the world can and will contribute to the design and creation of buildings that are manufactured locally. This offers opportunities for sustainable and inclusive growth around the world. It enhances new aesthetics, let us rethink the architectural profession, the position we take within the building process, and our business models.”

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World’s First 3D-Printed Office Building_©Government of Dubai Media Office

Some architecture firms have even taken an interest in developing space habitats targeting the moon and started collaborating with space agencies like NASA to help “imagine humanity’s first home on another world.” The European Space Agency (ESA) is pursuing a similar goal of harvesting materials from the moon to build structures for an entire colony.

3D Printed Mars Prototype for NASA by AI SpaceFactory_©AI SpaceFactory

So, how simple is it to integrate these technologies into a company’s workflow? According to Jessie Ho from Bercy Chen Studio, it has been easy, “We can use the software that we are familiar with (Sketchup, Rhino, Revit) to model the project and then simply export it to Cura for 3D printing. There are some tips on settings when exporting the files that we need to learn, but all the information can easily be found on the internet!” The firm has adopted 3D printing to create models for their projects. However, 3D printing comes with challenges; one must learn the technicalities of operating an AM machine and optimizing parameters for specific materials. Despite these challenges, the companies using it are already successful, as it has proven itself as an impactful and promising technology.

Reference List

[1] Sculpteo. (2022). 3D printing for construction and architecture projects: The Ultimate Guide 2022. [online]. Available at: https://www.sculpteo.com/en/3d-learning-hub/applications-of-3d-printing/construction-and-architecture/  [Accessed: 22 January 2022].

[2] Connections by Finsa. (2022). Architecture and 3D printing: are we really going to print entire buildings?. [online]. Available at: https://www.connectionsbyfinsa.com/architecture-and-3dprinting/?lang=en  [Accessed: 22 January 2022].

[3] Sabina Aouf R. (2022). How 3D printed forms make impossible architecture possible. [online]. Available at: https://garage.hp.com/us/en/arts-design/3d-printing-technology-innovate-architecture.html  [Accessed: 22 January 2022].

[4] Gopalakrishnan M. (2021). Is 3D printing the future for building homes?. [online]. Available at: 

https://www.dw.com/en/is-3d-printing-the-future-for-building-homes/a-58679995  [Accessed: 22 January 2022].

[5] Aysha M. (2020). How are 3D printing technologies reshaping design and architecture? [online]. Available at: 

https://www.3dnatives.com/en/3d-printing-in-architecture-121120204/#!   [Accessed: 22 January 2022]

[6] Portella. (2020). 3D Printing in Architecture. [online]. Available at: 

https://portella.com/blog/3d-printing-in-architecture/  [Accessed: 22 January 2022].

[7] Caesarstone. (2018). 3D Printing in Architechture: History, Benefits, and the Future. [online]. Available at: https://www.caesarstoneus.com/blog/3d-printing-in-architechture-history-benefits-and-the-future/   [Accessed: 22 January 2022].

Author

A graduated BSc. in Architecture and soon-to-be master’s student, aspiring to specialize in sustainable and energy-efficient built environment. Having lived in both the Middle East and Europe has ignited travel as a passion, which she considers a valuable learning experience in the architectural profession, contributing to a spark to explore further through writing at RTF.

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