Friday, January 22, 2016

Dutch Cementitous 3D Printing Project

I was excited to post this article about 3Dprinting concrete but first the bad news: The technology is still not big enough for what I wanted to use it for. That said, the article is a nice introduction to some of the changes 3D printing is expected to bring to design.

Dutch 3D printer manufacture Opiliones worked with designer Michiel van der Kley to establish Project Next which aims to solve the coveted goal of “a 3D printable bio-concrete and an accompanying 3D printer capable of making complete architectural spaces”. From what I can tell – at least initially – if by “architectural spaces” they mean spaces you’d need to crawl and squeeze into, mission accomplished. So yeah, scalability is still a factor. The project was focused on developing environmentally sustainable concrete and in the process experimented with several mixes including limestone, hemp fibers, flax fibers, etc., but ultimately I see the role of green building materials in architecture as presupposed and not something I need to be convinced of.  

What did catch my eye, however, was designer Van der Kley’s comments about how radically 3D printing will change what forms are possible architecturally. This is an facet of architectural 3D printing I am already engaged in. Sometimes it can be tough to described how architectural 3D printing affects form; therefore it becomes doubly difficult to predict how the technology will change architecture in the future. But that’s where I want to be: already where the crowd is going. And part of how to

get there is to understand theoretically where is going on aesthetically and economically with the technology.

In the piece Van der Kley’s calls for a “new design language”, the main thrust of his argument being that new techniques – such as 3D printing – require a new descriptive language. But here I must disagree with the good designer. When I look at the sculpture I immediately see math. In fact there are a variety of mathematical interpretations of the work: Manifolds defined by differential geometry; hyperbolic surfaces, etc. Nature also has a wealth of examples because anytime a membrane is put under tension it is capable of displaying this type of behavior and probably if I had more time we could narrow down an example from the human body, like the stomach lining or something. I think what Van der Kley really means is explained in the last paragraph, about the acceptance of such forms by the public. But his line of reasoning seems to assume he discovered the end of all possible forms of cementitious 3D printing, neglecting creative ideas from future architects and designers or further advances in the technology. A position which is hard to support.

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