Who will print it first?

In their attempt to transform into scientists, architects around the globe are turning their offices into laboratories.

By Nota Tsekoura, on 31st Jul, 2013 00:00

© Digital Grotesque | Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger


Resent article on the first 3d printed room made us wonder that maybe now is the time that the projects expected to follow will be replying to the question:

Who will print it first?


Over the last decade we are dealing with the matter of technology entering architecture deep enough to reach its lungs until it replaces it's breathing system and start exhaling dust. The 3D printing technology has become the messiah that will take architecture and design away from their “passe”, for some, principles, saving it from its conviction of staying speechless to the question: “what is left to innovate since everything is already done”, bringing it up to the temple of Art in search of some portions of freedom.


Starting mainly from the MIT Media Lab, it has rapidly expanded to reach the Mecca of the academic circles. In their attempt to transform into scientists, architects around the globe are turning their offices into laboratories. Is this the wrong direction? Of course not! But are all results good? This certainly depends on how one makes good use of this technology and the amount of waste material that they leave behind. Great projects have come out of this integration of 3d printing into architecture, being not so much “children” of the pure use of the technology but rather they come out of the mentality shift that this combination can evoke. Some of the strongest attributes of this change of mentality and the back and forth between the initial design and the final construction, a non linear project development tactic that is optimizing the result and in several occasions reduces significantly its cost.


Great examples of how this technology could be inspiring and useful, shine around the globe. Enrico Dino [D-Shape] for instance, made the step towards upgrading the use of this technology in 1:1 scale using rock as the only material. Building up his own 3D printer, he showed the world that rock could take shape in different ways other than chiselling. 


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© D-Shape | Enrico Dini 


The MIT professor Neri Oxman is also part of the team. Oxman is already a pioneer by taking 3d printing a step further, that is by combining more that one material and colour in one print. However, since she is not sticking with one idea or concept, she eagerly explores the fields that 3d print mentality have opened for her. Her latest project Silk pavilion shows magnificently that she goes beyond that, making nature print an entire pavilion with the finest material that it has to offer to the world of fabric: silk. 


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© MIT Media Lab | Silk Pavilion 


Several more share the same passion towards investigation and deeper research over these subjects. Professional architects and tutors like Marta Male-Alemany that never takes anything for granted, she pushes the limit of the digital tectonics field as far as possible, always open to explore new territories over what is already concurred. The list goes on with the rapid development of Sagrada Familia being a spectacular progression over the last 5 years to the use of 3D printing.


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Sagrada Familia | Inside view 


But now the problem is the exact same problem that architecture is facing in several moments of it's history: Who has the biggest!


Don't be surprised if it gets proportions like those after the invention of steel. Starting with the idea of printing an object, a medical plant, body prosthetics, machine components, fashion items and jewellery it has quickly grown to 3D printing a room, a house, a lunar base etc. What should we expect to see next in this game of “who does it first” then, making his way towards the book of glory? Perhaps we should wait and see who builds the first 3D printed city! 


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© ESA/Foster+Partners | Moon base


Many questions rise in a scenario like this one. Is there any room for trial and error tests? What would be the level of adjustability in a city made in “one take”? What about the level of intervention to the urban environment by citizens themselves? And on the long run what about repairing?