As 3D printing continues to advance and the technology becomes more common place in businesses across the globe, we examine the role it has to play in architecture and whether it can truly transform the way we work.
Defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the action or process of making a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession’, 3D printing is still a relatively new process in architectural circles but is quickly finding its feet within the sector.
Most commonly used to allow Architects to visualise their ideas and sketches, the printed models offer a physical representation of how a proposed building or project will look once completed. As an industry which is incredibly reliant on visual elements the technology has the potential to make huge improvements to the client approval process.
The opportunity for a client to physically see their finished design means that tweaks and improvements can be made early in the design process, reducing unaccounted for costs later and increasing client satisfaction.
Being able to do this by the simple push of a button and have it made on site, is a huge bonus. You no longer need to wait weeks or even days for intricate models to arrive, you can now print off the plans in your own office and have them on your desk within hours.
The architectural and construction sectors rarely stand still and house builders have already started to look at how the technology can be used further and on a grand scale.
As an example, July 2018 marked a milestone as we saw the world’s first ever 3D printed house become a reality in Nantes, France. The house in questions wasn’t a basic box room with a bed in either, it was a fully functional, 4-bedroom family home that measured over 1,000 sq ft in size.
Costing a reasonable £176,000 to build, the completed house came out at 20% cheaper than local stock; it only took a total of 54 hours to print and a further four months to be fully furnished, highlighting the method’s merits, despite being relatively new.
By using a robotic arm which pours concrete layer by layer the method also has huge environmental benefits. This precise way of pouring means that there is far less wastage. Cheap, quick and environmentally friendly – what’s not to like?
Although it’s widely known for bringing small scale items such as sketches to life and is starting to be used during construction projects, 3D printing can also be used in other on-site situations. Should machinery break or malfunction on site, which isn’t uncommon, it can be used to print replacement parts, reducing unwanted delays and costs.
Looking at the industry from a wider lens we know that skills shortages could create unwanted pressure moving forward which may give 3D printing the opportunity to play a key role in the future. Although it can’t and won’t remove all human presence on building sites, it will certainly help to alleviate certain pressures that the industry faces.
The benefits of 3D printing are clear, and it is starting to be taken seriously as an affordable option when compared to the conventional method of building. Despite being in its early stages the technology will definitely become a serious feature in architecture and is one to keep an eye on in the next few years.
It’s an amazing mix of art and science and its possibilities really are endless. The whole MWA team are looking forward to seeing how it will evolve and how we we’re able to use it moving forward.
BOC Gas, Leeds