What Impact Could 3D Printing Have On The Architect?
The job of Architect has remained a popular, albeit underpaid profession over the years whilst skilled tradesmen such as carpenters and stonemasons have dwindled in numbers. A study of over 300,000 small businesses by Simply Business indicate that, the number of joiners has dropped by around 17 percent in the last three years and “Numerous other trades such as builders, carpenters and painter/decorators, have also seen their numbers decrease”, (Simply Business, 2013).
This depreciation is largely due to the increased speed and mass scale at which items, such as furniture, can be produced using automated machinery. Large companies, such as Ikea are able to afford large scale manufacturing equipment allowing them to mass produce flat pack furniture which is easy to assemble and a fraction of the cost of what a carpenter might charge for his work.
Architect, NeriOxman argues that 3D printing could give power back to the trades people providing them with the ability to compete with the mass production capabilities of large companies, “craft meets the machine in rapid fabrication…we can generate craft with the help of technology”(Oxman, 2013).
As noble as Oxman’s views are if we consider her argument in relation to the development of 3D printing within architecture, rather than, ‘generating craft with … technology’, she is actually striving for a technological takeover which could see the destruction of architectural ‘craft’.
Unfortunately, rather than giving any form of craft back to the architect, there is a risk that automation may cause the job of the architect to go much the same way of the carpenter. When machines like Bertram’s are common place within the architectural industry, they will be able to mass produce buildings in much the same way Ikea mass produces furniture.
There is already a demand for cheap efficient housing. If construction firms like Mansell bought enough of Sebastian Bertram’s Contour Crafter’s (CC), and started their own housing construction companies, this could put the role of the architect under threat. In theory, a company could hire its own small team of architects or designers who could then produce 3D models of housing designs which could be sent to the companies CC machines for printing on site. Taking advantage of the massively reduced labour costs and rapid fabrication attributed to the use of Contour Crafters, companies could drive the price of houses down so low that an architect could simply not afford to compete. This is the antithesis of what Oxman was trying to argue in the first place.
Despite its many limitations, the rapid nature of this new construction process does create numerous opportunities for architects, especially in attempting to solve the global problem of a lack of social housing. It has already been identified that CC’s like Bertram’s can mass produce housing very quickly, and due to the lack of labour involved, at a cost which is affordable to be used as social housing.
Being able to produce structural, efficient houses in days rather than months or years would hugely benefit those without homes. This could be as simple as helping the social housing problem faced by those in the UK or it could be the answer to more complex issues such as, providing quick accommodation to victims of natural disasters.
Throughout history, every manufacturing industry to date has seen automated machinery revolutionise their trade. Now, thanks to pioneers like Sebastian Bertram, it’s the architectural industries turn to face the revolution.