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The Impact Of 3D Printing On The Architectural Industry (Part I)

Introduction To 3D Printing Within The Industry.

Since the industrial revolution the world’s industry has been racing toward a future of complete automation from the creation of the conveyor belt system through to the introduction of robotics into vehicle manufacture.

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With automated machinery dominating almost every modern manufacturing process, pioneers in automated design have spent the last 3 decades developing and refining the “3D Printer”, a device which would allow any object to be printed from whatever material is inputted in the machine.

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Until recently, the construction industry has been dominated by tooling machines that drill or cut away material to create standardised elements such as PVC windows and doors. This is a subtractive process rather like a sculptor might carve a statue out a solid piece of marble. Building construction should be a more human process of building up blocks to create a space designed by an architect. Whilst using standardised elements may have sped up the construction industry, it has limited architect’s scope for design, creating catalogues of elements which are easier and cheaper to choose from than to design bespoke.

3D printing is a form of ‘additive manufacturing’, adding materials together in a layer system, which differs greatly from traditional ‘subtractive’ manufacturing techniques allowing architects to be far more creative in their design whilst still achieving the same cheap build cost, and even quicker construction time than if they had used standardised materials.

How Could 3D Printers Be Used Within Architecture?

In the future, 3D printing technologies could allow architects to “bypass time consuming pre-production stages by fabricating physical models from the data within a ‘solid-model’ CAD file” (Callicott, 2001). Rather than spending hours reproducing models of building designs, 3D printers would allow quick fabrication of scaled down models, precise to the specification of the technical drawings. Having been translated from architectural drawings, the level of detail within the physical models would make it far easier for the architects to identify what worked within the building’s design and what did not. Furthermore, since a 3D printed model would be a purely scaled down fabrication of 3D CAD drawings the same drawings could potentially be printed at 1:1 scale to construct an entire building.

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The ability to print buildings at 1:1 may sound fraught with difficulties but German designer, Sebastian Bertram, believes he has managed to design a 3D printer, combined with robotics, which has the ability to print buildings out of concrete. “The robot “prints” contours of a building shell layer by layer using fast-drying concrete. Within just a couple of weeks, an entire estate could be produced” (Turner, 2012). Bertram’s machines have been dubbed ‘contour crafters’ as they ‘print contours’ of buildings as opposed to layers of objects. The project itself is named “One house a day” (Dehue, 2012), The diagram below displays stills taken from a video created by Mr Bertram outlining the way his Contour Crafters will eventually work.

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