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Reading: 3D Printing in Architechture: History, Benefits, and the Future

3D Printing in Architechture: History, Benefits, and the Future

05/30/2018
6 min read

Given our keen interest in design as a whole, 3D printing in architecture fascinates many of us here at Caesarstone. In this post, we’ll explore how 3D printing continues to shape the world of design in all aspects.

3D Printing In Architecture: What Is It?

3D printed architectural models are usually what people are referring to when they discuss this topic. 3D printing allows for an immense level of precision in creating miniature versions of architectural drawings. The accuracy and realism are often greater than what professionals can achieve using other methods, such as cardboard or styrene.

3D printed architecture (that is, buildings produced by large printers) does exist though.

We’ll explore these and other uses for 3D printing shortly.

3D Printing in Architecture: History

Origins

3D printing in architecture has been around for longer than one might assume. It was way back in 1981 that Japanese inventor Hideo Kodama began experimenting with printing using materials other than ink. This is the earliest recorded attempt at 3D printing.

Not long afterward, a man by the name of Chuck Hull started experimenting with the process (then referred to as stereolithography) as a means of creating small prototypes of objects for manufacture.

The development of 3D printing was hugely beneficial for inventors. They could now create prototypes from a photopolymer without having to spend massive amounts of money on manufacturing entire batches of their prototypes through traditional plastic molding.

Further Development

Did you know that, in 1999, scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine implanted a 3D printed organ (a bladder, to be specific) into a human – a medical first?

This may seem irrelevant from the perspective of 3D printed architecture but it’s all related, as you’ll see shortly. This kicked off a decade of rapid development for 3D printing that saw the creation of even more organs, blood vessels, and even an entire prosthetic leg made of 3D printed parts.

During the 2000s, 3D printing also emerged in the open-source community. Through the power of the internet, people began sharing 3D printing designs and a strong community of enthusiasts sprung up. 3D printing didn’t reach its prime just yet, though. That was still to come.

The Golden Era

For most of its history, 3D printing was prohibitively expensive. That started to change over the past 10 years. Today, printers can be had for far less than $1000 and software for creating designs capable of being printed is more user-friendly.

Another notable change is the ever-increasing number of materials that one can use for 3D printing. There are several types of plastics and even some metals.

This increased availability and advances in technology have paved the way for 3D printing’s use in several industries, including architecture.

3D Printed Architecture: Current Uses

Architectural Models

3D architecture printing can greatly increase efficiency when testing designs and pitching them to clients. Complex printed models take mere hours to build as opposed to weeks and even months for conventional cardboard or paper models.

3D architecture printing also affords very tight tolerances that professionals find useful when demonstrating the interlocking components of a structure, for example.

These highly accurate models can also help architects better communicate their vision in the case of prefabricated construction.

3D Printed Buildings

Large 3D printers (which behave very similarly to smaller ones) are capable of printing entire completed structures. This is still in its infancy, though. Many of these structures are concept pieces. In other words, people don’t actually occupy them. 3D printing entire habitable buildings is difficult because of the many different disciplines that are involved in construction, to begin with.

Builders use different materials and various skills in their work and printers just can’t emulate that precision quite yet. However, innovative minds in places like Dubai (which aim to print 25% of its buildings by 2030) are working on overcoming the challenges.

Detailed Interior Design

The rise of 3D printing has made it possible for people to create incredibly detailed custom designs for relatively cheap. Boutique architects that offer interior design services can use this technology in a number of inventive ways.

3D Architecture Printing: The Future

Future plans for architecture printing range from foreseeable to plots straight out of science fiction. Many in the industry predict that printed structures will become more feasible in upcoming years.

In a wilder plan, the European Space Agency (ESA) is aiming to start 3D printing buildings on the moon in the coming decades. The idea is that printers would harness the building materials already on the moon to create the structures for a full colony.

Of course, that’s a ways off. We still need to master 3D printed architecture here on earth.

Why is 3D Printing Important?

Humans have been building things for millennia. If we’ve survived this far without printing structures, why do we need to start now?

Well, for one, human needs have grown rapidly. Even economically enormous states like California have housing crises. 3D printing proponents argue that faster and more sustainable construction methods will alleviate this.

It may also substantially increase the quality of living in third-world countries where conventional building techniques are too expensive to be justified.

At Caesarstone, we love innovative design and we hope you hope you do, too. We continue to watch the development of 3D printing in architecture closely.

Collaboration between Caesarstone and the forward-thinking academic institution Pratt Institute produced the Future Kitchen, where students of architecture and design explored the possible use of 3D printing alongside other advanced concepts such as aquaponics and indoor farming to imagine the kitchen of 2050.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is 3D printing used in architecture?

You’ll primarily see the practice used to create models, although completely printed structures are becoming more common as the technology progresses.

How long has 3D printing been influencing architecture?

For decades. Stereolithography began revolutionizing model creation in the 1980s.

What is the best 3D printer for architectural models?

Because the industry changes so rapidly, with more capable models being released all the time, it’s tough to say. We encourage you to check out this piece from Architecture Lab for their latest take.