How 3D Printing and Architecture Intermingle

3D printing and architecture are closely connected fields, the latter being intruded by the first on multiple occasions. While 3D printing simplifies and automatizes architectural processes, it also changes the job profile of architects.

After years of competition between architecture companies to be the first one to use 3D printing for the construction of a house, progress in this field is rapidly speeding up. China-based WinSun Decoration Design Engineering constructed a five-story apartment block, while a French family recently moved into their new 3D-printed home in Nantes. All these successful projects set the bar high for designers and architects in the future and they also demonstrate the possibilities that this technology offers. Designers and architects alike benefit from 3D printing, because it enables them to produce uncommon designs and print items out of materials like masonry, concrete and wood.

Gilles Retsin of Softkill Design says about the combination of 3D printing and architecture:

“When we started our research, we were dealing in science fiction. Everyone on the architecture scene was saying, ‘It’s only going to be possible in 50 or 60 years.’ But when we were sitting at the table in front of one of these 3D-printing companies, these guys were like, ‘Yeah, no problem – let’s start up the research, let’s push it.’ So it’s not actually that far off any more.”

Despite all the advantages 3D printing carries with it, it also means many changes within the field of architecture that will be dealt with in this blog article.

Haptic Scale Models of Complex Constructions

The development of virtual reality in the digital sector was an important innovation that gives potential customers the opportunity to enter a digitally planned building or room and explore it, before having it built. 3D printing can be similarly helpful in the future, as it’s possible to produce a highly realistic scale model of an architectural design and grant, for example, the development and engineering crew access to it. This enhances an understanding of the structure they are currently building and it might even provide a motivating factor, because the crew can discern what they are working for.

3D printing leaves room for trials of new structures and designs and allows a visualization of problems that might occur during the construction or afterwards. Even the durability of a structure can be tested using such scale models, so that the final construction is (close to) perfect.

Planning, Printing, Locating

An important advantage of the combination of architecture and 3D printing is the fact that the planning of a building can be made anywhere. Especially when a house is meant to be located at a hard-to-reach place, this simplifies the construction. With 3D printing the structure could be designed and printed elsewhere and then easily transported to its final destination, only to be assembled eventually.

Hard-to-reach places can also be regions that fall victim to a natural disaster like earthquakes or tornadoes. Emergency housing for these locations could be printed at uninvolved places and the finished product could then be moved to the affected area.

Architects in the Future

3D printing opens many opportunities for architects and designers, but it also enables non-architects to undertake the planning of a building or structure. With the correct software, which will probably be made available as soon as printers become more accessible, the middlemen might be excluded from the construction process.

This does not mean that architects will no longer be needed at a certain point, but they will have to redefine their job profile and acquire new skills in the future and enter a successful collaboration with 3D printing. The technology has the potential to make construction works more efficient and precise and even to reduce safety ratings of constructions in general, but especially in hard-to-reach locations.

While architecture is among the more obvious areas where 3D printing finds usage, the extent to which it is utilized is immense. What do you think will be the next big step of architectural 3D printing?