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Brief Published: 14 Aug 2018

3 Innovations in 3D Printing for Architecture

ETH Zurich aluminium facade

The symbiosis of technology and craft is triggering a surge in progressive uses for additive manufacturing. Here we round up three concepts in which the capabilities of 3D printing are being pioneered to realise new possibilities in architecture.

  • Sand Moulds: Researchers at ETH Zurich University have developed a quick and affordable method to produce highly complex and bespoke architectural parts, using 3D-printed sand moulds.

    The team has produced an intricate, 6m-high custom facade from cast molten aluminium, and has fabricated the formwork for an innovative, concrete ceiling. The technology allows lightweight structures to be produced as a solid block without any extraneous material.

  • 3D Printing for Facades: New York-based studio EDG has devised a cost-effective process for restoring and recreating ornamental features for historic buildings. The solution uses rendering software and 3D printing to produce plastic moulds for casting elements in concrete. It also opens up the possibility of creating affordable modern facades, which today are often considered an expensive luxury.

    3D printing is an important focus for the government in Dubai; its Dubai 3D Printing Strategy aims for at least 25% of every new building to be constructed using 3D printing by 2025. Dubai-based manufacturer Immensa Technology Labs has developed a patent-pending technique to align with the strategy. Its reusable and environmentally friendly moulds allow for concrete, cement and gypsum materials to be cast in patterned forms for building facades. 
  • Stable Structures: US start-up Branch Technology has produced a large, 3D-printed pavilion without the need for steel reinforcement. The geometric design is self-supporting thanks to its cellular 3D structure and the carbon-fibre-reinforced ABS plastic used.

Designers are also exploring digital fabrication techniques when working with wood – see Material Direction: Reframing Wood. For more material innovations for architecture, read CMF Industry View: Architecture & Spaces.

ETH Zurich concrete ceiling
ETH Zurich concrete ceiling
Branch Technology pavilion