3D printing is here to stay. Every day we see articles that show us the latest accomplishment using 3D printers. From bridges printed entirely in 3D to 3D replicas of lost architecture or for something silly machines that print pizzas. We are fascinated and impressed by everything they can do, but still, regard them as something without real life application. In the field of architecture we see it as the next revolution that will save us the time spent on making models, but ... why limit it to only that?
The world of 3D printing has fascinated me for a long time. The uses for 3D printing have only one limit: the imagination of the person behind the printer. And although until now it was a world limited to super fans or people with resources, 2017 will be the year in which the 3D printers reach the home user, not just professionals.
When I started playing around with 3D printers my goal was to be able to do a lot of models in a very short time, which would allow me to try different options for the same project. 3D modeling on a computer, as powerful as it is, doesn’t replace a physical model, so I decided to take the plunge (into the world of 3D printing). What I didn’t know is that after a few weeks my perspective on things would very drastically change.
As architects, we’re taught to understand and use scale as a project element. We talk about the human scale, the one Le Corbusier defined so brilliantly, that we learned through Francis D.K. Ching or Neufert, or of the scale of the city defined by Aldo Rossi. 3D printing gives an architect a third scale, an insignificant scale, so small that it probably never mattered to us. After all, what is 0.1 millimeters in a world of meters and kilometers?
In 3D printing, 0.1mm is a world of difference. 0.1mm is the difference between a fast print or a quality print, it is the difference between a fully functional piece or 16 hours wasted. Thanks to 0.1mm objects from daily life take on new meaning, beginning to understand the interconnected relationships of those pieces from points of view such as ergonomics or the particularities of each user. An architect knows how to place a railing, but have you ever thought about the perfect shape of that railing so that users can grasp it in a comfortable and natural way? What is the perfect shape of a switch? What about for a lamp?
A 3D printer teaches us how to design pieces that make some daily tasks simpler. Why not utilize this in our work as architects? Why not parameterize a design, so that it is compatible with a wide variety of users? Why not go a step further and think about how you are going to use a piece of furniture in a space, and not just the space itself?
I think all architects should have access to a 3D printer. The lessons that it can give us in the first few years of our careers can radically change our future skills as architects. For already established architects, the 3D printer can give way to new methods that were unthinkable until now. Add a low cost that is worth trying, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll always have a machine that lets you make models much faster.