Design and the 3D Printing Revolution

Design and the 3D Printing Revolution

3D Printing has emerged from a world of multi-million dollar machines, being restricted to only the top 1% of earners, and entered into a time where every average Joe can print prototypes straight from his or her desktop.  While costs for this revolution are dropping by the day, opportunities are skyrocketing, launching us into a revolutionary age of the 3D Printer.  But the technology isn’t stopping at one-off toys and gizmos; it’s thinking bigger.

A relatively new company, Wikihouse, is taking 3D Printing to the next level, utilizing plywood sheets and CNC mills to create unique and structurally sound buildings for pennies on the dollar.  The cut sheets, laid out and designed by the Wikihouse team and its collaborators across the globe, are free to download and require only a truck and a local wood shop with a CNC mill for your home project to get underway, greatly reducing or even eliminating costs in transportation and labor.  Their signature model has already passed its certifications for structural integrity and is completely legal to code for personal residential construction.  All you need is a computer and the whimsical joy of a child playing with legos.  Who says adults can’t have fun too?

The makers of the Wikihouse have thought long and hard about their designs, setting up the necessary components to incorporate electrical pathways, plumbing, drywall, roofing, flooring, and exterior sheathing.  Once these foundation parts are laid down, finish carpenters and cabinet makers are at the ready with their own trusty CNC mills to finish the job.  But CNC mills aren’t the only 3D printing devices showing up for the party.

A small company in Massachusetts uses sand-casting and selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing to design fully customized water faucets.  While they currently offer a minimum purchase of 150 units, just down the road in New York, a small company by the name of Shapeways is offering one-off products of anything you can imagine and design in materials ranging from polished bronze and silver to stretchable plastics and clouded ceramics..

Such innovations in 3D printing technology are allowing a heightened level of customization in the home, allowing the average user to finally have a house that they can truly call a home, down to the door knobs and light switches.  While some designers may be in fear of losing their jobs to the masses, they may forget the beauty of the technology; it’s available to EVERYONE, including the designer.  With such opportunities in a truly limitless potential well, the future is sure to see less of the same and more of something different.


3D Printing Could Not Only Let You Design Products, It Could Let You Design Materials

A metal cuff 3D printed at Shapeways. Photo by Signe Brewster

3D Printing Could Not Only Let You Design Products, It Could Let You Design Materials

With cost margins unwavering whether you make one or 1,000 units, it’s easy to see why 3D Printing is taking the world by storm.  And if it wasn’t cool enough that you could make any product your mind could imagine, now designers are even creating their own materials through recent breakthroughs in the field.

Shapeways, a revolutionary 3D-printing company established in 2007, is an online marketplace where users can upload unique designs for everyday objects or modify an existing one, print one out for themselves or sell them to people around the globe.  It’s providing an opportunity for the consumer to get exactly what they want, foregoing the retail carbon-copy products rampant throughout the first world capitalist societies.

The CEO of Shapeways, Peter Weijmarshausen, recently spoke on the future of the company and the 3D-printing industry, commenting on new innovations in printers that can print in multiple materials simultaneously.  While he remarks that a lack of user-friendly software and file format converters are making the new technology difficult to utilize, he acknowledges that it is nonetheless a very hopeful prospect for the future.

Such a technology would allow the user to generate their own materials by interweaving existing materials in a new framework with a resolution of detail down to 4 microns (for now).  Imagine a new form of super-strong flexible plasto-metal, a revolutionary stretchable ceramic or transparent aluminum.  Such materials may sound like the work of science fiction, but 3D printing is moving toward making such ideas science fact.

Perhaps the most useful adaptation in this arena is the rejuvenation of the sense of community in the marketplace, where users can freely share ideas, modify each others designs, and offer recommendations and cautions to new users experimenting in digital design and fabrication.  Peter comments that “Markets are conversations, and this is exactly what online platforms can foster again.”  It’s an opportunity for real innovation to happen; a sort of digital renaissance.

However the future of 3D printing technology turns out, it’s obvious that there are numerous applications that can be made to the field of architecture.  With the revolutionizing of material manufacturing, new space-age materials might make it possible to construct mile-high sky scrapers, impossible cantilevers, and new shapes and forms that we see as truly unbelievable and future generations will one day view as commonplace.

Buildings of the Future May Be Designed Autonomously by Algorithms


Buildings of the Future May Be Designed Autonomously by Algorithms

Digital fabrication, the act of creating a form in digital space and replicating physical prototypes via 3D-Printing, is a field coming rapidly into focus in the industry of architectural design.  Digital mediums allow us to create shapes and forms that would otherwise be impossible to generate from simple hand drawings or modeling exercises, creating interesting forms that are wholly new in our human history.

A team of Swiss architects, led by Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger, have taken this concept of digital fabrication to the next level and are essentially attempting to remove the human from the design process.  Their work incorporates mathematical algorithms, basic parametric equations, and a few curious biological processes to allow the computer to freely design within a generalized set of constraints (making sure that doors function as doors, windows as windows, columns as columns, etc.).

The results, dubbed “Digital Grotesque’ show a very elaborate design that, upon first glance, appears to be a cross-breed of architecture and a cell undergoing mitosis.  The symmetry, being generated purely analytically in the brain of the computer, is flawless, some might say to a fault.  While the forms generated are quite elaborate and interesting, there is a certain appeal that is lost in the perfection of the forms.  One does not feel that there was much, if any, human influence in the design choices illustrated by the computer.

Similar breeds of biological and digital mediums have been illustrated through MIT’s Media Lab and the work of their Mediated Matter team.  One such project involved the unification of a robotic arm used to navigate string around metal frames with pegs along the perimeter, and 6,500 silkworms.  After studying the forms generated naturally by the silkworms, the team set out to create a frame work that would allow the silkworms to “fill in the gaps.”  The result is the Silk Pavilion, an interesting (and more natural feeling) sculpture that shows how biological phenomena and digital fabrication can work together to create stunning new forms.

While creating a physical machine large enough to freely print a single-family home in its entirety is a bit outside the realms of feasibility at this point, there are numerous ways that digital fabricators are stretching their equipment to meet the very real need of rapidly producable and deployable housing.  From monolithic robotic arms, to swarms of droid makerbots, to animal slave labor,  the digital fabricators of our age are pushing the boundaries of the new medium to bring rapid prototyping to every industrial field with Architecture leading the charge.

Architecture For The People By The People

Architecture For The People By The People

In this TED Talk, Alastair Parvin presents a look into the future of design through the integration of 3D-Printing Technology and the internet, for construction in the 21st Century.

A commonality since the industrial age started in earnest has been the transition from construction by the 1% (of top salary earners) on behalf of the 99% (bath houses, markets, public squares, welfare communities, etc.), to design and construction by the 99% for the 1% (factories, skyscrapers, laboratories, etc.).

With the onset of 3D-Printing technology, and the connectivity and spread of information via the internet, we are moving toward an “open source” world where design ideas and project can be shared across the world by the click of a button. This is leading the effort in putting the power of creation back into the hands of the 100%.

Alastair provides a unique set of seemingly contrary ideas to illustrate his vision of the future of construction. The first idea is “Don’t Build.” For example, an old Victorian school is having trouble with congestion in its hallways between periods and was prepared to spend 20,000,000 pounds on a renovation project to expand the hallways. The team appointed to manage the renovations envisioned a different approach, where the school bell system was broken down into several smaller blocks to manage the number of students in the corridor at any one time. The same problem was solved for several hundred pounds as opposed to several million.

The second main idea is to “Go Small.” Much of industry is based off of “Big Finance” and “Big Corporations,” to the point where any construction project is assumed to only be attainable through the use of large labor forces and heavy equipment. By focusing on a smaller market, having people do things for themselves, we can eliminate much of the cost of construction, as well as the steep labor requirements.

The third and final key point is to “Go Amateur.” Design is a creative influence that is inherent in all of us, and the idea of people doing things for themselves is not a new one. By giving individuals the power to sculpt their own environment, we can do away with “carbon copy” housing developments and begin to express our individual creativity.

Alastair has spearheaded an Open-Source web-based sharing system dubbed “WikiHouse” where people from all over the globe can upload and download design ideas, and be provided the cut sheets necessary to create the shell of a home from a CNC mill and plywood boards. Even the tools to assemble the building can be generated from the CNC Mill.

This new development has allowed the individual to be a part of the design and construction process, without the need of a big company looking over their shoulders. This set of “really big IKEA kits” is leading the way in what Alastair believes to be the next big leap in Architecture, namely. the “Democratization of Production.”

How 3D Printing Will Change Our World (Part II) (Adam)

This article addresses the dawning age of 3D Printing and how it is forcing Architecture to evolve.  The work of Neri Oxman, a Professor here at MIT, is used as a main reference for the newly budding and nearly infinite possibilities for the 3D-Pritning Revolution.

Professor Oxman’s work has been primarily within the field of biomimetic architecture; that architecture which mimics organic materials in its form and structure.  Using 3D-Printing, she has developed a new and wider range of forms, and is even beginning to reshape the way in which materials are used in our buildings.  By using one single material, one could create load-bearing members, lightweight structures for non-load bearing members, or even thin transparent areas for windows and natural lighting.

Her vision is of materials, objects, and buildings with multi-functionality, where no member is limited to a single function, but instead works with the whole to sustain itself.  One such chez lounge designed digitally and printed physically envelopes the user, shaping itself to the conforms of the users body; a quality that furniture makers have been attempting for centuries but have never quite mastered.  Neri is likewise working with new composite materials that interact with and respond to their environment, an application of which is being done in the field of flexible concrete.

This work, and the work of many others in the field of Digital Fabrication, has opened up a new door for the future of Architecture.  It has shown us that the very definition of ‘Architect’ may very well need to be rewritten soon.  With the 3D-Printing Revolution comes the opportunity for the individual to create, taking some of the responsibility for home design out of the Architects hands.  With the ‘Open-Source’ trend accompanying it, designs and models will be available for free at the click of a button and, with a little time, custom-tailored to the individuals needs and desires.  The very role of the Architect will need to evolve to adapt to these changes.


Dan Phillips: Creative houses from reclaimed stuff (Adam)

Dan Phillips provides an impressive analysis of the worldwide problem of waste in construction in this riveting lecture from TED Talks. His life goal has been the development of low to zero waste construction, and his numerous examples of houses built from 70-80% recycled or reclaimed materials is a testament to that goal.

What causes waste in the building industry?

Housing, in a modern context, has come to be a commodity more so than an instinctual shelter from the elements. This can be seen largely as a factor of society and biology.

In a societal sense, our vanity has been manipulated from a surface concern to a biological survival instinct. You’d be hard pressed to find a student in the U.S. Education System who isn’t concerned about getting a new pair of designer jeans or basketball sneakers, so that they can “fit in” with the student body and elevate their social standing. Children who wear hand-me-downs and the like are immediately relegated to an inferior position by their peers. Humans feel the need to be a part of the group, to identify with their cohabitants of the planet, and to be outside of this group feels like a serious affront to our survival instincts.

In a biological sense, coupled with societal impact, we often times find our normal behaviors to be different when we are EXPECTED to be different. An example would be when eating alone, you may chew with your mouth open, not immediately wipe that ketchup off your chin, maybe even use your hands. As soon as someone else enters the room, however, you clean your mouth and chin, close your mouth while you chew, and pick up your utensils. Our subconscious understanding of the expectations of others drives our actions.

When considering the application of these biological and societal concepts to Architecture, we need a firm understanding of how the Society of Architecture thinks. For this, we need to refer to the Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and his work “The Birth of Tragedy.”

In this work, Nietzsche explains a set of diametrically opposed absolutes that govern Art, Architecture and daily life, namely Apollonian Perspective and Dionysian Perspective.

Apollonian Perspective is the mindset of Order, Premeditation, and Perfection, much like the ordered columns of the Parthenon, or the magnificent uniformity of the Colosseum. Dionysian Perspective, on the other hand, takes a more natural, passionate, and organic approach, allowing buildings to flow and be praised for their non-uniformity. A nice example of this would be modern Biophilic Architecture, where Architects are striving to bring nature into buildings through tree bending, vine growing, and in some cases even growing glass out of a soy-based nutrient compound.

The main problem is that since the Industrial Revolution, our planet has been embroiled in the Apollonian mindset, to the effect that anything that interferes with the perfection of order is thrown out. This leads to incredible waste. When a pane of glass cracks in a set, the Apollonian Architect will throw it out and acquire a new pane. The Dionysian Architect might crack the remaining panes in the set, maintaining a pattern without creating waste.

From the Dionysian Perspective, waste is almost unheard of. A broken wood shaver can be tinkered with and repurposed as a dead-bolt for the front door. An old beer tap can make a fully functional faucet. A few small and sturdy trees can make an excellent railing for a patio.

Trees do not grow in Dimension Sizes, and neither should our Architecture. We need to reconnect with nature, and with ourselves, and move toward the elimination of waste.

Setting Standards in the 3D Printing Industry (Adam)

4 Machines in the 3D Modeling Arena

4 Machines in the 3D Modeling Arena

Benchmarking of Rapid Prototyping Systems – Beginning to Set Standards

Brief Overview of the Printing Technologies Discussed in this Article:

Stereolithography (SL/SLA): Using a perforated platform and a pool of photosensitive polymer liquid, a UV emitter traces a path, solidifying the liquid into a sturdy resin.  The platform is then lowered to admit a new layer, and the process begins again.  The finished product rises out of the pool and is cleaned to make ready for use.

Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): This process incorporates a powder bed with a lowering mechanism.  The process begins with a thin layer of powder, a laser solidifies the powder along its path, the tray lowers, and a new layer is brushed over the top from an adjoining powder bed.  The process is repeated layer by layer with each successive layer being firmly bonded to the previous through laser sintering.

Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM):  This Design incorporates long plastic filaments that are heated and extruded by a 3-Axis Printer Head.  The Model is built up, layer by layer, by the extruded plastic filament, creating a model in 3D Space.

Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM): Using sheets of paper, plastic, or metal laminate, a laser cuts the sheets along a designated design plan, cross-hatching the unused space for easy removal.  A new sheet is then added, and the process begins again, bonding the new layer to the previous with an adhesive.