In a recent article posted on the Architectural Digest website, author Ian Volner describes the impact the “3-D Printing Revolution” is having on the design and manufacturing worlds. He writes, “For consumers it means that fully customized on-demand housewares, trinkets and accessories, jewelry, even clothing and furniture might one day be no further away than a local Kinko’s-like shop, or better yet, the nearest desktop. For designers and scientists the possibilities are even more intriguing.” From life-sized 3-D head busts, to replacement jaw implants, to clothing, shoes and furniture – even full-scale homes! – the applications are virtually endless.
So what is 3-D printing?
According to Wikipedia, “Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.” Volner writes that “Most [3-D printers] use software that translates a rendering into a series of sections, like ultrathin slices of bread. With the typical model, moving printer heads then discharge a fast-congealing liquid, maneuvering around and around to produce each slice until the piece appears exactly as it did onscreen, but in physical form…This process…can turn out fully finished items in resin, plastic, metal, or other materials in a matter of hours.”
Well, just for starters, architects can render scale models of a clients’ home, giving everyone the ability to actually see what the home will look like in its finished state. The benefit of this, of course, is that making changes in the design stages will cost everyone less time and money in the long run.
Beyond this more obvious application is the interior design aspect of 3-D printing. Some of the newest and most en vogue furniture is being created using a 3-D printer. Turning again to Volner’s article, he writes, “…the Belgium-based company MGX by Materialise…has been at the forefront of 3-D–printed furniture, producing work by such designers as Mathias Bengtsson, Joris Laarman, and Patrick Jouin.”
And then, there’s the actual 3-D manufactured home.
“For architects, 3-D printing means a new way of creating not just scale models of buildings but also the actual structures themselves…an Amsterdam canal house by the Dutch firm DUS Architects will take three years to complete—but the potential for dynamic new forms and efficient construction is great. For a 2008 design competition, Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars conceived Landscape House, which he hopes to start printing next year using a sandstone compound. The building comprises a single loop—a twisted continuous surface that would have been daunting to construct from poured concrete. Ruijssenaars is collaborating with Enrico Dini, the Italian engineer who developed D-Shape, the world’s largest 3-D printer. As the architect explains, ‘Fifty percent of what you see [in the rendering] will be printed’ supplemented with concrete and steel for added structural strength.”
So what does this mean for the future?
“[Enrico] Dini sees a prospective application in lunar housing, which he has been investigating in conjunction with architect Sir Norman Foster. Others, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology–based architect and computer scientist Skylar Tibbits, are beginning to develop “4-D” printing, the production of materials that transform themselves into preprogrammed shapes when they come into contact with water.”