Will 3D printing Revolutionize Architecture?

Guest Post by : Therese F Tierney, PhD @tierneytoo
Director, URL: Urban Research Lab
School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Cross-disciplinary work encourages architects to reconsider their methodologies and in response, develop new strategies to anticipate, recalibrate and transform in uncertain conditions. [1] A similar context sparked Archigram’s speculative projects from the 1960-70s embodying a hands-on, DIY culture with a pragmatic mix of simple technology and social distribution networks. [2] That approach was adopted by the School of Architecture 573 Graduate Design Studio in collaboration with Business Instructional Facility’s MakerLab, where the project brief required a new interdisciplinary College of Design for the year 2030.   Over the course of the semester, students explored future spatial possibilities vis-à-vis digital design curriculum, including parametric software seamlessly realized through robotic fabrication, in this case, MakerBots. [3] The application of new tools and techniques resulted in creative solutions as well as innovative building typologies. Thus experimental pedagogy was not only the objective, but also the methodology of this architecture studio.

Project development was reinforced through collaborative practices, and in that respect, the MakerLab was instrumental to the success of the studio.  For example, MArch Candidate Jeremy Copley’s scheme was designed with numerous reconfigurable components.  He was quick to realize that invention and ad hoc experimentation were key to effective design solutions.  He began with 3D printing the individual components and then refining them as part of an iterative process.

For other students, the construction of physical models would have been difficult, if not impossible to build, such as Vincent Velasco’s futuristic scheme generated from a sound wave. The alteration between various expressive media – parametric software (Rhino and Grasshopper), 3D printing, followed by in-class critique, further revision, and additional prototype production, ultimately led to better resolved and crafted schemes. As a test bed for experimentation, the MakerLab enabled students to gain skills in rapid prototyping within the design process, and not only as final documentation, as is most usually the case.

[1]  Stan Allen, “The Future that is Now” Places 3/12/12. http://places.designobserver.com/feature/architecture-school-the-future-that-is-now/32728/

[2]  Beatrix Colomina, “Radical Pedagogies in Architectural Education,” The Architectural Review, 9/28/2012. http://www.architectural-review.com/essays/radical-pedagogies-in-architectural-education/8636066.article

[3]  Digital fabrication has significant implications for global architectural projects.  Buildings can be designed in one place and the digital files sent elsewhere to be fabricated on site – a method used to meet shortened construction schedules by Foster + Partners with the Beijing Airport for the 2008 Olympics.