3D Printing & 3D Visualization Are We Ready for a Sustainable Future in Architecture
3D Printing & 3D Visualization Are We Ready for a Sustainable Future in Architecture

The modern era has brought us lots of advancements.

Until recently, the technology utilized in architecture used to be only the upgraded version of the existing tools and software solutions, available since the '90s, and even earlier. However, the last decade has brought incredible new products and equipment.

At the same time, the 21st century has become a period of ecological awareness and consciousness, and we have accepted our responsibilities.

Since we're trying to protect our environment using natural and organic materials, and saving energy at the construction sites, you can say that we're trying to achieve sustainable architecture. There are lots of methods for reducing the negative impacts of architectural projects on the environment, but one of the latest tech-driven solutions is 3D printed architecture.

With that in mind, here are some steps of the evolution of this revolutionary machine, as well as a few good examples that will help us build a healthier future.

3D Printers as Tools for Visualization

One of the primary purposes of 3D printers, although they're useful in all creative business fields, is architectural visualization. The process of 3D modeling and rendering remains one of the most widely used techniques for architectural visualization, but we can freely say that 3D printing is right behind.

Although computing visualization can be more than hyper-realistic thanks to virtual reality headsets, augmented reality apps, and mixed reality presentations, sometimes, a touchable maquette simply can't be outdone.

Instead of wasting lots of time creating the entire maquette manually, a 3D printer can finish the task within a few minutes or hours, depending on the level of precision and the size of the model. In the beginning, the only materials available for 3D printers were some types of plastics, but today, you can use almost anything, including food.

Since 3D printing is based on pre-created 3D models, architects must visualize the building before the beginning of works at the site, and clients and investors can see and change some potential aesthetic issues if needed.

A few years ago, some leading firms in architecture realized that they should give it a shot and try to create some larger structures using this exciting and funny to use machine.

3D Printing of Large Structures

In the beginning, the very first 3D printed houses were made of previously 3D printed pieces and elements, combined with the traditional construction systems.

Today, you can find about 1,000 conventional houses completely made up of 3D printed sections, including constructive elements or entire construction systems. This method of building can reduce and partially solve the problem of social housing, as one 3D printed house costs about $7,000, and the entire process lasts up to two weeks.

After this trend evolved a little bit, 3D printers capable of printing larger structures arrived on the market, and things have become much simpler on the construction sites around the world.

Instead of performing time-consuming processes, architects can finally rely on 3D printers that, instead of synthetics and soft materials, can print layers of concrete, allowing the production of firm and solid structures.

As the world's largest 3D-printed concrete structure, 26.3 meters long with a width of 3.6 meters, the bridge in Shanghai is proof that we can 3D print literally anything. Besides, there are other impressive buildings and structures made of firm materials such as stainless steel.

Advantages of Mobile 3D Printers

Recently, the mentioned 3D printers capable of printing large structures have become mobile. Unlike the method of building prefabricated houses, mobile 3D printers can print all the layers of the building directly on the site, reducing both time and costs, and eliminating waste materials.

Firstly, one of the common and money-consuming problems remains the transport of prefabricated elements, even if they’re created using a 3D printer. Very often, some parts get damaged in transport, but besides that, the method of building prefabricated houses can't eliminate the waste of materials, because some things still must be prepared on the site.

Also, post-assembly works are another thing that architects can avoid using these mobile 3D printers, which differs from any other method of building.

Gaia - A Call to Save the World

At “Viaggio a Shamballa” and the “A call to save the world” conference, Italian 3D-printing company WASP (World's Advanced Saving Project), Big Delta WASP 12MT, and Crane WASP – a modular 3D -printer – presented their research on 3D printing architecture using free and natural materials.

"Gaia is the result of a limited and optimized use of agricultural resources, which through technology have been converted into a complex building with a minimal environmental footprint," WASP said in an interview. And they confirmed that the entire building is biodegradable: "If the building isn't maintained, it will turn back into the soil."

As first of this kind, a 3D printed house Gaia was made of raw soil in October 2018. This eco-sustainable architectural model, or should we say prototype, was entirely build of waste materials coming from rice production.

From a health and bioclimatic point of view, Gaia saves an incredible amount of energy and improves indoor health, it costs almost nothing, and all that with almost zero environmental impact. Without heating and air conditioning systems, Gaia maintains a comfortable temperature both in summer and in winter.

Rice House, the rice manufacturer, supplied the herb fibers – one of the chief materials. Let's see the final mixture of the used materials:

- 25% of soil taken from the construction site in Massa Lombardo, Italy: 40% silt, 30% clay, 30% sand.

- 40% of straw chopped rice for insulation.

- 25% of rice husk for insulation.

- 10% of hydraulic lime.

Utilizing agriculture resources of natural waste materials, 3D printed eco-friendly houses such as Gaia, with a minimal environmental impact, can change our approach to sustainable architecture in the future. This cheap and sustainable architectural masterpiece and the future of sustainable architecture took only ten days to complete.

3D Printing of Architectural Decorative Elements

Since people are now able to 3D print entire houses and buildings with several floors, it's only logical that architects can also use this technology to print various artistic elements, especially when it comes to the interior design.

Although most people don’t think that sustainable architecture created by 3D printers can be pretty, a Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola proved them wrong.

Patricia Urquiola has developed a new and innovative method, and she explained: "I used these filters in the metal mass [of the building] to incorporate a kind of movement. It was a totally new and exciting way of thinking about space for me."

The BMW Welt exhibition area got a 322 square-meter twisted green and blue terrazzo floor fit within a 3D printed white frame. As the leading company in the automotive industry, BMW said:

"Urquiola used her surface design to translate, extremely intuitively, the apparently fractured ice surface, green color – which appears to change in tone against different lights – and Northern Lights."

If set to create fine and precise structures, 3D printers can produce highly decorative and attractive architectural elements without any negative environmental impacts.

The Bottom Line

Each day there is another architectural miracle built by 3D printers. This robotic and futuristic machine can become part of both luxury and social housing.

Firstly, 3D printers are capable of creating stunning and complex designs using various materials such as steel, concrete, or waste. This is why 3D printers can start the social housing revolution, allowing people to buy their homes for a minimal price, and to get their homes in about ten days.

We hope that this revolution will never stop and that 3D printers will become our favorite and commonly used tool for creating everything beyond the industry of architecture.

Helpful and futuristic, 3D printers have already changed our approach to architectural visualization. However, the next step is utilizing this wonderful piece of technology to create something more significant – sustainable and biodegradable houses, buildings, and even cities.

Join the community and go green!

What do you think, what's the next step in the evolution of 3D printing? Let us know in the comments!