Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mini-Review of French Architectural 3D Printing Project

The picture included above caught my eye the other day: It’s a detail of an architecturally 3D printed project in France by Zurich-based LafargeHolcim and start up XtreeE. (I’ve previously done some architectural 3D printing research with Lafarge Canada when I was at SAIT.) The structure was produced for a kindergarten. If only Canadian school children were so lucky to have such forward thinking planners of educational spaces; alas, Canada rarely has the political will to create high-design, high-concept public buildings. In any case, returning to picture, it shows something very unique about the characteristics of architecturally 3D printed structures, namely, the similarities between architecturally 3D printed forms and organic forms. Architecturally 3D printed structures can be carefully engineered to optimize material – cutting away area that don’t transfer any internal forces – leaving the sort of organic form seen in the image. It’s incredible to think that state-of-the-art materials engineering, applied through architectural 3D printing, results in forms Nature already discovered, but also suggests the method might be on the right track to gaining new efficiencies. Another thing I really like about this sort of solid material engineering is that it's just so bloody difficult to do. Off the top of my head I think only the mighty @Arupgroup could take up the task at the drop of a hat. Though obviously the research arm of LafargeHolcim is not lacking engineering talent. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Play It Loud Fundraiser Wrap Up

On September 24th 2016 the Birdsell Family & Friends Brain Cancer Research Fund held the first of what is hopefully many fundraisers for brain cancer research in Canada. The initiative is part of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Impact Grant program we will see us as a family try to raise $25000 in 5 years. Though we as a family have been able to make a pretty good dent in the sum ourselves, it would be made just a tiny bit easier if there were also some additional fundraising from events as well; hence the "friends". To that end, I dusted off my DJ headphones and put together a playlist whose beats are so funky they’re actually banned in several counties. The occasion marked the resurrection of an old hobby I haven’t practiced since I lived in Japan and it brought back a lot of great memories to play music loudly again. Thanks again to all those who supported the event! 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Architectural 3D Printing’s Effect On the Real Estate Market

One of the most effective ways to analyze architecture is through its economics and I’ve found one of the best measures of this in particular is the real estate market. Forecasting architectural 3D printing’s effect on the real estate market is a complicated issue and I’m not sure the linked article exactly hits its mark. The uncertainty extends from predicting a technology’s effect – this time a new building system – on the real estate market. Not a lot of research has been done on this issue whereas how different regional pressures effect the real estate market is well understood. So what does the article say? Starting with price: “Three-dimensional printers don’t require labourers, produce much less waste (as materials are fed into the machines), and will be able to erect homes in days instead of months—making them substantially cheaper to build.” What the article hasn’t factored is the R&D costs of developing architectural 3D printing to the level we normally associate with modern building codes so these are all potential savings at the moment.

The article goes on to suggest another benefit of architectural 3D printing to the real estate market: buyers will be able to dream up their own innovative designs. And while A3DP does have some interesting cost implications for producing unique designs (which I have described elsewhere) the article does not identify a major hurdle consumers will face when designing their own house: 3D modelling a structure is a not a trivial matter. One will face challenges in meeting site tolerances, applying local building codes and using complex 3D modelling software; all of which seem beyond the commitment of the average homeowner necessary to drive the sector.

Lastly the article turns to questioning architectural 3D printing’s effect on cities by suggesting A3DP allows for building on previously “unbuildable” sites. This seems like a specious argument to me because this effect can only be marginal at best. There’s simply no glut of “unbuildable” sites in any city I know. That’s what makes them cities. Maybe it’s just my background in architectural history that shapes my view, but I look out at cities around the world and would argue there is evidence people have succeeded in applying every possible combination of structure to fit any site or space (Japanese cities in particular being a good example of this). I just don’t see architectural 3D printing’s main driver of growth being “unbuildable” sites compared to the technology’s labour and time savings.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Raising Structural Engineering’s Sustainability Game

Though constantly enthralled with my day job building with large beams – digitally at least – one thing always in the forefront of my mind is how structural engineering relates to one of the biggest drivers in the modern AEC industry: sustainable design. The steel and concrete which normally makes up a building’s superstructure do not lend themselves naturally to sexy sustainability measures. They’re energy intensive components to manufacture and transport and thereafter become inert and forgotten – ideally for the life of the building. Recently the 2016 Canadian Green Building Awards were announced highlighting some of structural engineering’s contribution to sustainable architecture. Basically what our firm does – or at least what I can contribute – is thoughtful material optimization. This is done by being as geometrically rigorous as possible delivering an efficient structure. Then we have beam design and selection etc. which is done by the engineers. This is mostly governed by local building codes but does have material and cost implications that better engineers will shift to the owners’ advantage. The projects in the article don’t stray too far from engineering’s traditional approach to sustainable structural design. Most of the efficiencies gleaned from their sustainability programme appear to come from high performance enclosures as opposed to novel recycled structural components or planting 20 trees for every steel beam. (Though I do like the sound of a solar-powered concrete pour.) Blackwell Structural Engineering had not previously been on my radar and it was nice to see Fast + Epp’s work acknowledged again but I wonder how they would fare against engineering juggernaut Arup.