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?
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.