3D printing for architecture
“3D printing is certainly having a transformative effect in the way that we explore designs and the fact that we can design something and then, by the end of the day, put it into the machine. By the morning you’ve got a 3D printout. That’s tremendously exciting.” Norman Foster, architect and founder of Foster + Partner
What are the added values for architecture?
Tangible scale models are paramount to many architectural projects, as a complement to computer simulations.
3D printing enables architects and designers to create low-cost 3D architectural models with a high level of precision.
There are two main applications of 3D printing for architecture: 3D printers to create low-cost architectural models used as study models during the creation process, and 3D printers to build realistic and detailed architectural models, often used to promote a project by showcasing the final result in 3D, in a visually striking way.
3D printing low-cost architectural models
The Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) technology is well adapted for 3D printing basic architectural models.
A 3D printed model of San Fransisco.
The main advantage of 3D printing for this type of architectural models is the productivity gain.
3D printing saves time in the early design and creation phases by reducing the lead-time for architectural model production and allowing quick tests of concepts and iterations.
While it can take several days to build an architectural model manually using wood or foam, 3D printing can deliver results in just hours. A 3D printer can operate overnight for the larger models, which take longer to print.
Lower production costs
3D printing allows to easily test many concepts early in the project, and quickly identify potential structure issues, which would be harder to spot on computer simulations.
To assess volumes and general structure of the building, they need to be 3D printed using a single plastic material and a small number of colors, thus keeping the production costs to a minimum.
The 3D printer manufacturer Stratasys claims that modeling costs can be reduced up to 75% by using 3D printing.
A visualization of each layer of the building to show how the house really fits together.
3D printing realistic architectural models
3D printing is often used to promote architectural projects by showcasing the final result with 3D printing models.
These models are presented in the final step of a project to visualize the exact structure that have been or will be built. Thus these very detailed architectural models require:
• A fine print resolution
• A wide choice of 3D printing materials and colors
• The ability to manufacture complex structure
The SLA (Stereolithography) technology is usually the best fit, along with the Polyjet technology, or even the FDM technology.
3D printed model manufactured by a ZPrinter. Image Credit: The Realization Group – Z Corporation/3D Systems
A 3D Printed Home Model. Image Credit: WhiteClouds.
Aiding visualization to make a strong impression
Such architectural models allow visualizing the final version of a building or any architectural project in 3D with many realistic details.
Some advanced 3D printers can even print outdoor terrains and render various textures and colors, for awe-inspiring results.
Showing a beautiful architectural scale model of a building usually helps promoting a project and getting new clients by making a strong impression.
Manufacturing complex structures
Thanks to 3D printing, it is now possible to create architectural models of complex structure such as domes with arches, which are almost impossible to produce by hand.
MX3D recently announced a collaboration with Dutch construction company Heijmans, to 3D print an actual metal bridge in Amsterdam. They will use an innovative 3D printing system, which extrudes melted metal (see video on the right).
However, 3D printers are not intended to replace designers and model makers, but to empower them by adding a new powerful machine to their toolbox.
3D scanners and 3D software for architecture
3D scanners for architecture
3D scanners are an important part of the 3D printing ecosystem.
They have applications in architecture, such as interior design. It is possible to map a room in 3D using a 3D scanner, and get the 3D model on a computer.
This virtual 3D model can then be edited by the architect using 3D software, or can be used to simulate the addition of a new piece of furniture.
A 3D scan of a room with the structure sensor, a 3D scanner for ipad.
The software Sketchup by Trimble.
Some architects push even further the boundaries of 3D design by creating their own 3D software.
As an example, star architect Frank Gehry developed Digital Project, an ambitious architecture 3D software tailored to create highly complex structures, impossible to design with traditional 3D software.
3D software for architecture
No matter what type of architectural model you want to 3D print, the first step will be to have a 3D model of the building on your computer.
Some architecture software already offer 3D printing features.
However, some specific 3D printing features are not yet available in all 3D design software (colors and textures for instance).
Case studies : The Sagrada Familia & HLA
The Sagrada Familia
According to the BBC, 3D printing could allow the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, one of the most ambitious buildings in modern architecture, to finally be completed more than a century after the beginning of the project.
“Given the complexity of surfaces and shapes of Gaudi’s original project, working in 2D makes no sense from an architectural point of view” said chief architect Jodi Coll.
Thus, architectural 3D models are created using 3D printing, with speed and accuracy.
A 3D model of the Sagrada Familia. Image Credit: Expiatory Temple of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família.
Model of the lush green heart for Herlev hospita’s expansion by Henning Larsen Architects
Henning Larsen Architects
Henning Larsen Architects (HLA) is a Copenhagen architectural firm, which created projects such as the Danish Embassy in Riyadh.
To push the boundaries of architectural design, HLA has recently invested in 3D prototyping technologies.
“This machine has created a much closer link between the physical world and the digital world by allowing us to print color elements and build 3D models of buildings from the beginning of the process” says Morten Steffensen, an engineer at HLA.