The potential of 3D printing for architects

Experimenters are using 3D printing to build structures and create interior features.

3D printed buildings

Prefabricated buildings involve substantial parts of the building being constructed in a workshop or factory then assembled on site. There have been several trials that construct the prefabricated parts using 3D printers.

In Italy, Enrico Dini has invented a machine called D-Shape which is the world’s largest 3D printer. The machine uses sand and chemical binders to fabricate objects out of a stone-like material. It has been used to print a simple hut like structure.

The future may not be in 3D printing whole buildings, but constructing elements such as beams, facades and columns.

An advantage that 3D printing has over conventional pre-fabrication is that the fabrication process does not need to be located in factories. Printers can be placed on site and objects printed on demand.

3D glass

A building’s interior can also benefit from 3D printing. At Harvard University, they are developing a printing process using glass instead of the usual plastic to construct objects. The researchers have built a machine that creates glass objects in a variety of shapes, colours and textures.

This technology can be used to create custom made articles such as light shades, sculptures, vases and windows. What inspires architects is that the type of glass being developed for 3D printers is much harder than the fragile nature of conventional glass. The predicted uses for this hard glass include creating channels to distribute air and water around a building.

The optical qualities of the glass can be controlled in the 3D printing process. This makes it possible to 3D print photosynthetic glass that generates electricity.

Current research into 3D printing has demonstrated that the technology has the potential to play an important part in the future of architecture.

Posted by Matt Hughes
September 21, 2015

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