The future potential to build and realize the concepts of the human mind lie just there, within the potential of the human mind. For years the architectural world has been struggling to keep up with the ability of pen-to-paper and the recent advents in NURB surface computer modeling, algorithmic and parametric architecture. This in-return has led to the building and technology industry playing catch-up with the recent advances in 3D architectural visualizations. In fact, as computer-aided design invaded these practices in the 1980s, radically transforming their generative foundations and productive capacities, architecture found itself most out-of-step and least alert, immersed in ideological and tautological debates and adrift in a realm of referents severed from material production.
The architectural field’s current use of the parametric has been superficial and skin-deep. Despite the contemporary collective desire to forget postmodern semiotic signification, everything visual eventually devolves into symbolic imagery. Michael Meredith, an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, goes as far as saying that the “parametric work” being produced today fits within an evolution of so-called postmodernism, concerning the image and referent although the parametric is the tautological modulated image of quantity. To the extent the profession has utilized parametrics today, there is very little instigating complexity other than a mind-numbing image of complexity, falling far short of its rich potential to correlate multivalent processes or typological transformations, parallel meanings, complex functional requirements, site-specific problems or collaborative networks.
For this reason it is refreshing and provides a new sense of hope in the future of architecture that has lead and pushed Enrico Dini, an Italian inventor, and Markus Kayser, a young German born furniture and product designer to search out a method that combines building, structure and material. Creating and setting up new methods for how architects, engineers and designers can finally plan and realize the future that they have long promised.
Enrico Dini dreamt of buildings, construction and impossible shapes. He has long been inspired by Antoni Gaudi’s architecture and loves the ambition with which Gaudi practiced. Dini became a civil engineer and later branched out into making machines, all the while dreaming of impossible shapes. For Dini, thinking about having to build with concrete and brick and the required use of scaffolding and manpower seemed outdated and inefficient. Rather than accept the constraints of the current building methods, in 2004 he invented and patented a full scale 3D printing method that used epoxy to bind sand. Enrico could now 3D print buildings.
In 2007, Enrico went back to his invention and did away with the use of the messy and sticky epoxy and got a new patent for a system using an inorganic binding material combined with sand to once more 3D print buildings. The new process had lower maintenance costs and was easier to use and cost effective. Enrico is currently working on further improving the accuracy and will 3D print a full sized roundabout sculpture in Pisa Italy. Enrico Dini calls his real scale printing machine D_Shape. As of now the D_Shape technology can easily 3D print 6m x 6m x 1m parts that could then be either shipped or assembled in place. The goal being to literally 3D print an entire building is not far off. The parts made by D_shape resemble ‘sandstone.’ They are comparable in strength to reinforced concrete and the ingredients are the binding material and any type of sand. D_Shape’s materials cost more than regular concrete but much less manpower is needed for construction. No scaffolding needs to be constructed so overall building cost should be lower than traditional building methods.
The system works with a rigging that is suspended over the buildable part. The system deposits the sand and then the inorganic binding ink. No water is necessary. Because the two components meet outside the nozzle, the machine does not clog up and can keep up its accuracy of 25 DPI. Enrico and D_Shape are currently talking to lots of construction & engineering companies and architects about their technology. Currently Enrico has partnered with Norman Foster Architects to incorporate the us of moon dust and the building element with the ambition of one day being able to transport the 3D printing machine to the moon and build structures made of the same sand/dust found on the surface of the moon.
Markus Kayser was born near Hannover, Germany in 1983. He studied 3D Furniture and Product Design at London Metropolitan University from 2004 – 2008 and continued 2009 with the study of Product Design at the Royal College of Art and gained his Master in 2011. Markus Kayser Studio was set up in London, UK in 2011. From early works of furniture and lights in his father’s farm workshop through to today Markus Kayser developed an understanding of materials, processes and technologies which he sees as being key in combination with the natural given. He wants to engage by producing objects that one can relate to, that speak about something else other than just their utilitarian qualities. The layers to be discovered as well as one’s associations with objects interest him.
In August 2010 he took his first solar machine – the Sun-Cutter – to the Egyptian desert in a suitcase. This was a solar-powered, semi-automated low-tech laser cutter, that used the power of the sun to drive it and directly harnessed its rays through a glass ball lens to ‘laser’ cut 2D components using a cam-guided system. The Sun-Cutter produced components in thin plywood with an aesthetic quality that was a curious hybrid of machine-made and “nature craft” due to the crudeness of its mechanism and cutting beam optics, alongside variations in solar intensity due to weather fluctuations.
In the deserts of the world two elements dominate – sun and sand. The former offers a vast energy source of huge potential, the latter an almost unlimited supply of silica in the form of quartz. The experience of working in the desert with the Sun-Cutter led him directly to the idea of a new machine that could bring together these two elements. Silicia sand when heated to melting point and allowed to cool solidifies as glass. This process of converting a powdery substance via a heating process into a solid form is known as sintering and has in recent years become a central process in design prototyping known as 3D printing or SLS (selective laser sintering).
These 3D printers use laser technology to create very precise 3D objects from a variety of powdered plastics, resins and metals – the objects being the exact physical counterparts of the computer-drawn 3D designs inputted by the designer. By using the sun’s rays instead of a laser and sand instead of resins, he had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world.
His first manually-operated solar-sintering machine was tested in February 2011 in the Moroccan desert with encouraging results that led to the development of the current larger and fully-automated computer driven version – the Solar-Sinter. The Solar-Sinter was completed in mid-May and later that month he took this experimental machine to the Sahara desert near Siwa, Egypt, for a two week testing period. The machine and the results of these first experiments presented here represent the initial significant steps towards what I envisage as a new solar-powered production tool of great potential.
In a world increasingly concerned with questions of energy production and raw material shortages, this project explores the potential of desert manufacturing, where energy and material occur in abundance. In this experiment sunlight and sand are used as raw energy and material to produce glass objects using a 3D printing process, that combines natural energy and material with high-tech production technology. Solar-sintering aims to raise questions about the future of manufacturing and triggers dreams of the full utilisation of the production potential of the world’s most efficient energy resource – the sun. Whilst not providing definitive answers, this experiment aims to provide a point of departure for fresh thinking.
This should be an especially loud call to arms to architects, who hold within their own minds the ability to think forward and manifest their own destiny. While it is great that these technologies are being pursued it should be architects who pursue them directly. With the recent passing of Steve Jobs, who many considered the Frank Lloyd Wright of the technology industry, we as architects should aim to pursue the same level of great and ambitious work, and the desire to unify architecture similar to how he unified his products. Steve Jobs created the need for a product, then designed the product and the technology to be able to realize those products. Likewise, architecture and architects should aim to unify the building, the experience, the structure, the material and the technology to make it all possible.