3D Printing in Design & Architecture

Unless you live under a rock, you would have to be aware that Scott Cam built the first 3D ‘building’ in Australia, a poolside cabana, on his ‘tree change’ property in Gisborne, Victoria, during the most recent 2022 season of The Block.

The giant 3D printer took just 28 hours to build the 3-metre high, 60m2 structure.

The Gisborne cabana was built with a concrete mix containing 30% recycled material, and the help of academics from the University of NSW.

However, Nick Holden, CEO of Contour 3D, the company responsible for the build, said they are still working on the mix, and the ultimate goal will be using 70% recycled materials, be self-insulating, compliant with the current building regulations and last up to 100 years without maintenance.

So, with the industry still fundamentally building as it did 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, and typical builds lasting about 50 years before major maintenance is needed, could this be the revolution that the industry needs for sustainability?

3D In Action

Tech research experts predict that 3D printing is set for a boom, with a forecast worth of USD$55.8 billion by 2027.

The pandemic saw the uptake of 3D printed test swabs, respirator parts and protective gear in response to the global shortage.

In the aerospace and defence industries, it’s being used for prototypes, tooling and lightweight components, as well as real parts for aircraft. Medical and dental are seeing the use of 3D for prosthetics, medical devices, and patient-specific solutions such as implants and dental appliances.

Major brands are also looking at the options for consumer goods, and Chanel – ever the innovator and leader in the beauty space – released the first 3D-printed mascara brush in 2018.

The Design and Architecture Space

The opportunities for 3D in the design space are diverse. With big brands already streamlining their design and manufacture of 3D printed products in house, we know that smaller brands will follow. And as it becomes more accessible to the mainstream, custom designs will be front and foremost.

Concept Models – Architectural and building projects use concept models to bring their vision to life. The complex geometric abilities of 3D technology will take over the extensive handmade process and allow for a simplified process that creates more accurate and highly rendered models. Alterations can be made quickly, and the realisation of the build and design will be more time- and cost-effective.

Interior Design – Complex furnishings and detailed parts will be created faster. Prototypes will be made without waste of expensive materials and human labour. Already, builders and designers are presenting options to clients to pick and choose designs and finishes with customisation being turned around faster, without additional costs or delivery delays.

3D Buildings

While The Block’s poolside cabana might be a first for Australia, it’s not the first global success; there are buildings cropping up all over the world credited to 3D technology.

  • WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. in China has built mansions and an apartment block.
  • The United Arab Emirates and city of Dubai built the first 3D office building, and trumped that and others in 2020 with the largest 3D building; the 6,900 square-foot administrative building for the Dubai Municipality was built in 2020.
  • A two-storey, 160m2 building was the first 3D house built in Germany in 2021.
  • In 2020, 14Trees began producing sustainable affordable homes and school buildings in Africa, kicking off in Malawi.

The benefits of 3D-printed homes and building and design concepts for the industry speak to sustainability, environmental impact, and cost saving.

It can complement planning, parts, and interior design concepts to give added depth for clients. It’s an exciting innovation to the building and design industry, and it’s only just beginning. I can’t wait to see how this technology further impacts the future of design.

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