Shaping Future Cities: 3D Printing and Architecture

Technology and continued advancements in technology have paved the way for design and architecture in the contemporary world. They have aided designers to better realize their ideas into actuality within shorter periods of time and with more ease. Where individual drawings would take weeks to complete, computer-aided design software’s have allowed architects to achieve complex design layouts, illustrations and renders of building perspectives, virtual models of the building and its spaces etc. in much swifter ways.
It has completely re-shaped the approach to design, with the development of computational design methodologies, advanced tools for analysis of site conditions, analysis of a buildings performance etc. it has allowed the architect and the client both complete clarity in their vision and made achieving them possible.

3D Printing, seeks to be another game-changer. The idea of creating an actual, 3d object from a digital data file enticed people from all industries. The possibilities seemed endless. With extensive applications in various fields, architecture seemed to be a front-runner to embrace this new technology. Once its potential for detailed model making was realised, the benefits it offers over conventional model making techniques; many architecture firms have begun to use 3D printed models to demonstrate their designs. The level of detail and precision achieved allow the clients to view the project at a smaller scale and make informed decisions moving forward. It began as a cost-intensive technique, but with its growing popularity and ubiquity; it is becoming more and more approachable for architects and even students of architecture to experiment with.

World’s first 3D printed footbridge, 12m long and 1.75m wide in Madrid, Spain
Source: 3D Insider

3D models for representation are using this technology on a smaller, simpler scale. Using 3D printing as a construction process; having a whole structure printed through digital data files is what this technology has true potential for. It is still soon to comment on its validity, but experiments with the idea have created a new buzz and opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Ambitious projects envision complete structures printed using this technology, various combinations of materials, technologies etc are being used to achieve this.
A project, The Landscape House, envisioned as an endless strip with no beginning or end, was conceived as a design inspired by the mathematical concept of the Mobius Strip. The architect, Janjaap Ruijssenaars wanted to use 3D printing for construction because he saw it as a seamless and organic process, which further echoed the overall design philosophy. While the execution of the design ultimately consists of 3D printed formwork which will be filled with fibre reinforced concrete, which is not exactly a completely 3D printed building, it is an advancement towards the same.

The Landscape House by Universe Architects
Source: dezeen.com

Another project, the ProtoHouse by Softkill Design is a conceptual house designed to explore 3D printing as a technique, the basic principle is derived from ‘bone structure’. The form of the building was created using an algorithm with mimic’s bone growth and deposits material along stress lines creating an intricate webbed structure. The structure will be printed in parts and each part will be shipped to site and assembled on site.

An interior view of the model for ProtoHouse by Softkill Designs.
Source: http://www.evolo.us/

In recent years, there have been several successful strides to achieve completely 3D printed buildings. The Dutch studio, DUS Architects have printed an eight sq. metre cabin using sustainable bioplastics called Urban Cabin. While not the most ideal living space due to its limited space, the project successfully illustrates the potential of 3D printing for short-term relief structures, temporary housings etc. The design further promotes sustainability by using bio-plastics which enable the user to completely shred the structure after use and re-use the material to print another form. The design of the structure has angled protrusions along the walls which offer structural stability along with form-optimisation.

Urban Cabin with an exterior 3D printed bathtub, by DUS Architects
Source: www.inhabitat.co

Another such project is by engineering firm Arup and architecture studio, Architetti who have used a portable robot to 3D print a concrete house. The 100 sq. metre house consists of a living area, bedroom, bathroom and kitchen and was printed within one week in Piazza Cesare in Milan. While there are several ongoing projects using 3D printing for prototype dwelling units, “The Office of the Future”, a completely 3D printed office in Dubai is exploring the commercial viability of 3D printed structures as well. The entire structure was constructed using a cement printer, the assembled-on site; taking only 19 days for printing and assemblage. With significant decrease in labour costs, material costs due to wastage, construction time periods, the Office- the first fully-functional and inhabited built structure using 3D printing is truly a marvel of design and engineering.

Concrete house in Milan
Source: cnninternational.com

Interior of Concrete printed house
Source: inhabitat.co Office Building – 3D printed, Dubai
Source: inhabitat.co

Assembling of printed parts on site
Source: https://www.enr.com/

The advancement and growth of 3D printing as a means of construction is the culmination of the post-industrial revolution ideal of modularity and machine manufacturing. It is the final step towards achieving a fully automated construction process driven by machines and minimal human input. With an ever-growing database of 3D models, further development towards this could see complete removal of the middle man. Printing structures would only require the data files and the printer. From small dwelling units, to office spaces to full-scale urban blocks; the true possibilities with this technology are yet to be realised, we have just scratched the surface and it will be very interesting to see how this methodology could shape our future cities.

Asis Kaur, a student of Architecture with an inquisitive outlook, striving to curate her jumble of constant thoughts and ideas of architecture into a succinct composition.

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