When the kids at NOTLabs first got their hands on a MakerBot Replicator, the ingenious 3D printer that can make just about anything you want, they quickly got down to business – making LEGO and Kinex connectors, that is. As inconsequential as their decision may seem, it got us thinking: today, building blocks, but tomorrow? Buildings themselves. The future isn’t as far as you may think. In the next two articles, I’ll introduce you to three visionaries who are already applying 3D printing technology to revolutionary effect: an engineer hoping to improve the human condition, a robotics expert with the goal of completing the Sagrada Familia (or at least putting a structure on the moon), and an architect at MIT using nature-inspired materials to turn the design world on its head. If these three examples are anything to go by, 3D Printing will revolutionize the world as we know it. But it begs the question: at what price? Will it offer architects the freedom to design without the pesky limitations of built reality? Or, like the scribes made redundant by Gutenberg’s printing press, will 3D printing make the architect go extinct?
A Dignified Solution Because of its time/money-saving capacity, Khoshnevis envisions a lofty application for his technology: bettering the human condition. Imagine if this technology were applied in developing countries, especially where lumber is scarce. Slums could be eradicated. Instead of living in tents or cardboard boxes when natural disaster strikes, victims could be provided what Khoshnevis describes as “dignified housing” – and fast. With poor communities particularly vulnerable to destructive natural disasters, and about one billion people already living in slums (and that number expected to double as over the next twenty years), 3D printed homes could be a dignified solution to an increasingly desperate global situation. But beyond its world-changing potential, what does 3D printing offer the architect? Nothing short of freedom from reality.
Building Your Digital Dreams To prove his machine’s potential, Dini paired up with architect Andrea Morgante, of Shiro Studio. As Morgante explained to Blueprint Magazine, he developed a model that would have been extremely difficult and cost prohibitive with traditional construction techniques or methods. The result was Radiolaria: an impressive, Gaudi-esque sculpture. Morgante’s sculpture reveals one of 3D printing’s most powerful advantages: it can create concave and convex designs (which ordinarily involve time consuming, expensive processes, such as manual casting and intricate scaffolding) just as quickly as straight lines and angles. Sean Bailey, architect and artist at Paper Architecture, put it this way to Txchnologist: “‘Whereas traditional fabrication techniques require additional resources as complexity increases, 3D printers are not bound to this logic.’ With a 3D printer, it takes the same amount of time and money to turn a glob of concrete into a cube as it does to turn it into an octopus.” Much like BIM has empowered architects like Frank Gehry to incorporate more organic, curvy forms into their designs (forms that were previously considered impossible), 3D printers could similarly open up a world of possibilities for architecture, making what was once avant-garde attainable, maybe even mainstream. As Morgante so eloquently articulated, these printers: “can build your digital dreams.”