Experts Comment: The future of 3D printing

Monday 28 Jan 2013

Is 3D printing a viable alternative to traditional construction methods?

Last week’s lead News Review story featured a residential concept design drawn up by Universe Architecture and artist Rinus Roelofs which is due to be realised through the use of 3D printing. Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Universe Architecture told WAN how he intended to use traditional construction methods for the facades of the house and a D-Shape machine to complete the rest. Read the complete article here.

WAN asked two experts - Dr Mike Cook from Buro Happold and Dominic Thasarathar from Autodesk - if 3D printing could be considered a viable alternative to traditional construction methods. They answered thus:

Dominic Thasarathar, Strategic Industry Relations, Construction, Natural Resources, Autodesk

It’s early days, but assuming it can be proven to be a low-risk, commercially viable proposition, then it may open some intriguing possibilities. Initially perhaps by complementing traditional construction methods, in a similar manner to how both digital fabrication of components and automated control of heavy plant have taken hold. I could also see potential value for sites in remote locations and printing of spare parts for building maintenance.

If it delivers on the promise of side-stepping the status quo, where complex, low-volume building components cost more than mass-produced standardized elements, Intellectual Property will become the new currency of competition.

Dr Mike Cook, Senior Partner and Chairman, Buro Happold

We are increasingly familiar with the value of 3D printing to allow us to create small scale models of complex building components and complex buildings. They have done a lot to bridge the gap between computer screen and 3D geometry. Research is well underway to up-scale this process to apply it to large building components and even, perhaps, whole buildings.

A big challenge is to bridge the knowledge gap between shape making and material understanding. As engineers we need to understand the long term performance of the materials we use. The way that material is laid down in the ‘printing’ process has a profound impact on its properties - so research has to focus on better understanding of material properties. 3D printing of concrete, laying down layer upon layer with integral fibre reinforcement is perfectly feasible and happening in several centres around the world.

The Landscape House is an ambitious project. With the floors and roof to be laid down through a large scale printing process with the whole presumably stiffened up by the more traditional vertical plates of glass and mullions.

One of the great advantages of printing techniques is that very complex forms can be made and these forms can be varied continuously - this makes it attractive for personalised, ‘design it yourself’ objects. So it is surprising that the form of the floor and roof plates for the Landscape House are not more complex; they don’t seem to take advantage of the full potential of the technique. Certainly this project will provide a valuable test for the scaling of the techniques and should give us more confidence in the material performance. I wish Janjaap Ruijssenaars and Enrico Dini every success in pushing this technique further forward and look forward to seeing great things.

Key Facts:


Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team