At the beginning of 2019, we identified 3D printing as a trend that would influence architecture in 2019. This was not a difficult prediction to make. Aside from noting a 70% increase in reader interest in 3D printing throughout the previous year, we saw how the architectural community has had a long-running engagement with 3D printing, from using the technology to tackle homelessness, to creating affordable yet complex structural connections.
This does not mean that 2019 was a "boring" year in the 3D printing world. In fact, while the influence of the technology in the architecture of 2019 was predictable, the various ways in which this influence manifested was not. Throughout the year, 3D printing seemed to appear everywhere, from spanning a canal to replicating timber, and imagining neighborhoods for Texas and Mars.
The year began with the world’s longest 3D-printed concrete pedestrian bridge being completed in Shanghai. Designed by Professor Xu Weiguo from the Tsinghua University (School of Architecture) - Zoina Land Joint Research Center for Digital Architecture, the 26.3-meter-long bridge was inspired by the ancient Anji Bridge in Zhaoxian, China.
In the same month, The New Raw launched the Zero Waste Lab in Thessaloniki, a research initiative where Greek citizens can upcycle plastic waste into urban furniture. Part of the larger Print Your City project, the project utilizes a robotic arm and recycling facilitates to create custom furniture pieces that close the plastic waste loop. The initiative aims to use flakes from recycled products to redesign public spaces within the cities.
Also in January, researchers at New York’s Columbia University unveiled a method of vibrantly replicating the external and internal structure of materials such as wood using a 3D printer and specialist scanning techniques. In their study “Digital Wood: 3D Internal Color Texture Mapping” the research team describes how a system of “color and voxel mapping “led to the production of a 3D printed closely resembling the texture of olive wood, including a cut-through section.
Continuing the academic theme, ETH Zurich unveiled details of “Concrete Choreography,” an installation inaugurated in Riom, Switzerland. The installation presented the first robotically 3D printed concrete stage, consisting of columns fabricated without formwork, and printed to their full height in 2.5 hours.
In February, the renowned Centre Pompidou in Paris opened its doors to two living sculptures, embodying the future forms of spatial intelligence. As part of the exhibition, titled “La Fabrique du vivant” [The Fabric of the Living], ecoLogicStudio founders Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto created “in-human gardens”, two 3D printed living sculptures receptive to human and non-human life.
In March, 3F Studio designed a 3D-printed façade destined to serve as the new entrance of the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany. The German-based startup integrated functions such as ventilation, insulation, and shading into the new façade.
In April, San Antonio based architecture firm Overland Partners designed a series of proposals for new 3D printed neighborhoods in Texas. Teaming up with nonprofit, 3 Strands Neighborhoods, and ICON, a creator of printers, robotics, and advanced materials, the firm utilized the Vulcan II 3D printer to revolutionize homebuilding.
May saw AI SpaceFactory awarded first place in the NASA Centennial Challenge. The multi-planetary architectural and technology design agency’s Mars habitat MARSHA was awarded the overall winner in the long-running competition series, which saw 60 challengers in total. The MARSHA habitat offers a glimpse into what the future of human life could look like on Mars, with a 15-feet-tall prototype 3D printed during the final phase of the competition, including three robotically-placed windows.
As part of our month-long focus on Innovation, we explored the capacity for 3D printing to tackle the housing crisis, and to offer an alternative to traditional solutions to social housing. We looked at the pros and cons of 3D printing as a large-scale construction tool, while considering a range of examples of where the technology has demonstrated potential.