The room with 260 million surfaces: 3D printed architecture is here
Thinking big is apparently no challenge for architects Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger. They've created a 3D printed room using algorithms to design its intricate cathedral-like interior. Assembled from 64 massive separate sandstone parts printed out with a huge 3D printer, the room contains 260 million surfaces printed at a resolution of a tenth of a millimeter. The 11-ton room took a month to print but only a day to assemble. The fabrication methods the duo used to print the room will, they believe, open the door to printing architecture, freeing architects to create new unimaginable buildings and also restore old ones.
Hansmeyer and Dillenburger, both computational architects at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's architecture department in Zurich, wrote algorithms to completely design the complex geometry of the 16 square meter (170 sq ft) room . Dubbed "Digital Grotesque," their modern take on a medieval grotto was made with a new type of 3D printed sandstone, infused with a hardening resin to increase its structural stability. To print out the sandstone parts that made the room, the duo used a massive Voxeljet 3D printer, about the size of a large room. "It can print a single piece that weighs 12 tons, yet at a layer resolution of 0.13 millimeters," says Hansmeyer. "This combination of scale and resolution seemed unreal to us at first."
The scale of machines, high material costs and the structural weakness of 3D printed materials is the reason why architects have up to now used 3D printing technology only to make prototypes or small scale models. The sand-printing technology the duo employed finds use in industrial applications, but with the addition of their innovative methods, it can now be used to create huge prefabricated sandstone bricks strong enough to build with.
"The limiting factor for the project was no longer the size of the printable space, but instead the logistics of how to transport and assemble such large elements," Hansmeyer tells us. "Otherwise, it would have been impossible to build the entire project out of just 64 printed pieces."
The weight of each of the 64 printed elements was reduced by making them hollow and using an internal structural grid to give them stability. Additional constructional details to help the bricks align with each other and to make the room to solid as a whole were directly integrated into the bricks and printed too."We added truncated cones to allow for stable stacking and ensure alignment, and we created horizontal shafts through the elements to facilitate transport," Hansmeyer told us. "There was no need to use a different material or a different system."
"No cost for ornament. No cost for individuality..."
Before he printed the room, Hansmeyer fabricated a series of columns out of plastic. As 3D printing technology hadn’t matured to its current level, these columns were materialized as layered models. Each column is made of 2,700 laser-cut slices, 1 mm thick, assembled on top of each other. The 3.2-m (10-ft) high room is their first architectural high-resolution 3D print using the sandstone printing process. Both the 3D printed columns and room are incredibly detailed containing millions of surfaces. "Architectural details can reach the threshold of human perception," says the Digital Grotesque website.
They're impossible to draw or construct by hand, which meets Hansmeyer's goal of creating entirely new structures that defy imagination using customized algorithms. "What kind of forms could we design if we could free ourselves from our experience, from our education," Hansmeyer asked the audience in his TED talk last year. "What would these unseen forms look like?"
Abstracting natural cell division processes, the algorithms they created fold the surfaces of a single cube repeatedly to create intricate buildable forms. It takes the computer about 35 seconds to create a structure with 16 million surfaces, evolving both the overall form and the microscopic detail. Since it wasn't possible for existing CAD software to process the grotto's geometry containing 260 million surfaces, specialized algorithms were developed to convert it into printable data that was streamed layer by layer to the 3D printer.
Hansmeyer believes that the additive manufacturing process will open up a new role for architects as designers of processes to create structures, instead of designing structures and think in terms of bits rather than bricks. The project Hansmeyer says held quite a few surprises.
"One of the most astounding things is that it costs exactly as much to 3D print a plain box as it does to print the most elaborate form conceivable," says Hansmeyer. "Not only are the costs identical, but the amount of time required is the same as well. And it doesn't cost more to print a different form each time i.e. there are no advantages to standardization. The implications of this are huge. There is no longer a cost for complexity. No cost for ornament. No cost for individuality."
The duo’s vision is to now 3D print an entire house. Digital Grotesque is currently on display at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France.
Check out a video on Digital Grotesque below.
Source: Digital Grotesque via Beautifuldecay
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Even average stone masons have way more feel for shapes and expressions than whoever went crazy with his CAD software to make this thing.
And the "impossible to make by any other means" thing: Alright, we get it. 3D printers can do that. Now get over it. And no, bigger is not better.
I believe the point was to generate extremely complex surfaces in an architectural setting. And bigger is better, if there is no significant loss of resolution. As most industries have yet to really embrace the significance of 3D printing, I think it is essentially required to pound it into people's heads until they realize "Wow, this is actually significant, and is changing the world". Sometimes a slightly different aspect of this changes peoples perspectives. Why don't we all live in Frank Lloyd Wright houses? Oh yeah, all that hand crafted customized brickwork (depending on which Wright home you want to replicate) required huge labor input. Hmm, maybe if I could design my brick pattern, and send it to my local architectural print shop, I could have whatever custom stonework I like. Would this have an impact on the architectural industry? I think so.
We are used to the constraints of mass production. It is infinitely more expensive today to make 1 off designs because making one of anything bears the entire design cost, and all of the tooling costs, and all the ...
3D printing enables a totally different different cost model. Mass production theoretically amortizes the entire production cost over a huge number of parts, eventually driving the end cost down to a small incremental amount above the bare material cost plus margin. Therefore all consumer goods MUST be mass produced to be economical.
These new technologies are extremely disruptive. Now you still have to amortize the cost of the 3D printer over its lifetime production, but consider the implications if I can now design a custom stone walkway that is curved. I don't need to start with rectangular blocks, cut them to fit, make compromises related to practicality. The current norms are all based on bending to the needs of the manufacturing process, and these emerging technologies will change EVERYTHING. I can't wait.
Sandstone also seems silly. Here's a material that's both beautiful, and at least an order of magnitude stronger than concrete: " Composition for the production of artificial marble or granite ": Expired US Patent 5280051
Made, I must add, from ordinary sand too.
But that's just predicated on what these gentlemen created--the possibilities just seem limitless.
But I think the statement: "There is no longer a cost for complexity. No cost for ornament. No cost for individuality." WILL encourage architects, artists and designers to push some boundaries. Which is exciting despite BeWalt dour reaction.
Maybe they should think about painting it to give it more depth. A bit of gold leaf would make a lot of difference.