Thursday, January 12, 2017

Engineering 3D Printed Architecture

Last month a small milestone was reached with the erection of a 3D printed concrete bridge over a polite stream in a civic park of Alcobendas, Spain. It caught my attention because it was one of only a few projects I've come across whose engineering was rigorously studied and recorded during the design and construction process, here undertaken by The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. The bridge is composed of a 40-foot span made in eight sections, made of recycled materials, which I assume is concrete, but what is the glue? Dear goodness to make a bridge out of this product what on earth is holding it together? So as the reader can see I still have questions despite my best internet sleuthing.

Moving to its design, I was a bit underwhelmed compared to what's coming out of the modern Catalonia region. Reports suggest the design was meant to be reminiscence and twigs and branches, which does relate to its civic setting. And though I think there are some amazingly cool applications of biomimicry in architectural 3D printing this was not what I was expecting; then I saw all the happy people on the bridge in the below attached Spanish-language news report and knew we needed to celebrate this piece on the blog.

This project is an important step in studying the engineering characteristics of 3D printed structures. Jurisdictions need evidenced-based data to judge the suitability and safety of these new structures. One important step is dynamic and static analysis of the bridge, which is actually pretty standard stuff in the industry to the best of my knowledge, but specialized. Where we often fly into the unknown are 3D printed structures' long-term behaviour. The worse case scenario is that the bridge starts to decompose in the first rain. Barring that, municipalities and owners want to know what their maintenance responsibilities will be over the life of the structure. Arriving at a narrow topic from the broad probably makes this a good place to stop and I will keep my more detailed thoughts for the major motion picture.

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