by Raymond Herrera

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In a recent archdaily article, How 3D Printing Will Change Your World, writer Vanessa Quirk asks whether recent technological advances will give architects more freedom to do what they do best or make them extinct. Two extreme possibilities but let’s dig in. Man find stone, man chip stone, man make tool, man eats [caveman voice]. In a nutshell that is subtractive maufacturing, machining shapes out of x material. This method as well as molds, and extrusions are how most things are made – cars, iphones, your icey chain, kicks, and the laptop I’m working on now. Now, in come 3D printers to change the game.

I became aware of them a few years back when a plumbing fixture salesman came to our office to show us their new line. At the end of the presentation he pulled out this little faucet handle, rougher and darker than the usual brass unfinished piece, and said something like, “oh and by the way, we’ve bought this 3D printer from [XYZ company] to produce models for custom hardware so that your clients may be able to visualize them and make a decision in a few days time.” After I picked up the pieces of my exploded head, our reconstituted minds visualized what is now becoming a real possibility. Entire structures made by HPs on super Barry Bonds Juice.

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From houses to skyscrapers we will at some point be able to, after a thorough print preview of course, hit the print button and watch our homes completed in a matter of days. Imagine giant printers loaded with concrete instead of ink cartridges. According to the archdaily article, these 3D printers can build a square foot of wall in less than 20 seconds, and Khoshnevis and his University of Southern California colleagues say they will be able to erect a 2,000 square foot, two story house in 24 hours. Imagine the chaos caused by the earthquake in Haiti, or the poverty the country suffered before the disaster remedied in a matter of weeks. Behrokh Khoshnevis, director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) at the USC, calls it Contour Crafting.

Radiolaria, by Andrea Morgante, Photo via Enrico Dini. Printed using Enrico Dini’s D-Shape 3D Printer.

As the technology further develops not only will the shapes that can be created have little limits, but so may the materials that can be printed. Enrico Dini of Monolite, UK, uses a mixture of sand and binders to create a stone like material, as can be seen in the picture above. His company is now working with renowned British architecture firm Foster and Partners and a documentary of his journey to develop this product has been made.

As with any new technology, 3D printing could solve many problems while creating new ones. Will this technology simplify the construction process? Will it eliminate arguments about cut corners or misinterpreted details between client, builder, and designer? Who’s going to argue with a printer? Not me. Where do construction workers go, or do some few essential ones become technicians for the new building machines? The or an architect may still have a place in the industry. Someone will have to design the five different types of buildings that will be available worldwide. And when those become overdone another may get to design the next five, and so on.