Three-dimensional printing has gone from incremental performance advances to carving out new territories of creative potential. From novel material choices to scale-shifts in applications, additive manufacturing is transforming architecture, design, and engineering, and motivating practitioners to rethink conventional methods of production. Two achievements in particular signify milestones for the building construction industry.
From a materials perspective, plastic (ABS) and cornstarch (PLA) are the most common 3D-printed mediums; ceramics, metals, and concrete are others. Ireland-based Mcor Technologies now offers 3D-printing capabilities in a material even more familiar to architects: paper. Mcor promises the full-color, lifelike output at 5 percent of the material cost of current 3D-printing methods. Founded by brothers and engineers Conor and Fintan MacCormack, Mcor uses selective deposition lamination (SDL) technology, which produces models from A4-sized sheets of paper with adhesive between each layer. The output is like a—very—high-resolution contour model.
Mcor also proffers the capability to print full-bleed 3D models in which its machines cut excess paper and material with a tungsten-carbide blade, leaving startlingly real objects behind—and without the burn marks that are prevalent in laser-cut paper models.
Mcor has partnered with Staples to offer paper 3D printing online, beginning in the Netherlands and Belgium. It won’t be long before architecture students rush to their reviews with full-color, printed paper models.
The second milestone concerns the scale of application. This summer, Oakland, Calif.–based design studio Smith|Allen Studio completed Echoviren, which founders Stephanie Smith and Bryan Allen, Assoc. AIA, claim is the world’s first full-scale, 3D-printed architectural installation.
The 10-foot-square-by-8-foot-tall open-air pavilion comprises nearly 600 modules, or building blocks, of 3D-printed PLA. The pavilion’s geometry resembles a cone with a gently pinched and twisted top for structural rigidity. Smith and Allen intended the perforated building modules to represent the cells of sequoia trees, which surround the installation. The design creates a self-supporting structure out of small PLA blocks while representing the pavilion’s material context. As the biodegradable installation decays over time, it may improve with age—a luminous apparition sloughing off its skin, deep within a primeval forest.
Multidimensional printing is witnessing other exciting developments. A couple of these are 4D-printing, a multimaterial shape-change technology developed by MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab and Stratasys; and object-duping, which employs 3D scanners and printers to replicate sculptures and artifacts. Together, these advancements indicate how additive manufacturing has crossed the threshold from crude prototyping to the high-resolution, full-scale fabrication of finished designs.