Alysse Mills & Tammy Tsang

3D printing has become a topic of interest for many in the past decade. With various 3D printing technologies being used in engineering, biomedicine and a multitude of other industries, the applications seem endless. With the many and varied 3D printing applications, one inevitably thinks of house building – with this, why not architecture itself?

In the course of this blog, we will introduce you to how 3D printing is applied in architecture and its function. What does the future hold for architecture with the endless possibilities 3D printing offers? Join us and find out, perhaps you will be able to use this information and expand upon it in the future.

The Use of 3D Printing in Architecture

3D printing involves the use of software in modelling or building prototypes. Many computer programs such as ArchiCAD and Revit allow you to design visual rendering and high-quality landscape design prototypes, known as blueprints, that meet your client’s needs and expectations. (1) When working with a team that requires virtual collaboration and communication, using 3D printing software is a good option. Cloud share is used to optimize the productivity of the team and reduce accessibility issues. It allows multiple users to work on the same page simultaneously. (2)

3D printing benefits individuals who work in the construction industry. The two main benefits are increased production speed and near-zero material waste. For instance, it is possible to print a house in 24 hours! With the use of a 3D printer, everything is fully automated and eliminates manual errors. However, it is vital to monitor the printing process to prevent any technical issues from occurring in the production. It avoids massive production costs on material waste because the 3D printer will calculate the exact amount of material needed for the output. They can also use recycled materials which benefits the environment and expands the sustainability of the industry.

What Are Blueprints?

Blueprints are the drafts of architectural conceptions used to produce the final product. Designers will continuously test design ideas at a low cost before coming up with a final model that best satisfies the client’s expectations. By digitally creating mockups, through 3D software, a designer can consider various options before printing. These blueprints provide a full 360 degree view of the structure that was not possible before. By using digital 3D blueprints, information is easily shared and understood across various stages of development. 

The Construction of 3D Structures

In 2004, Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of South Carolina was able to construct a wall using what he referred to as “contour crafting”. (3) This is largely regarded as the first wall to be 3D printed. Where a process once took hours to print a single wall, machines are now capable of printing an entire frame in a similar amount of time.

3D printing is also referred to as additive construction. It typically uses extrusion, in which the printers push out materials from a nozzle. By doing this, they can build materials on top of each other in layers to create whole entire walls or smaller subsections of a structure. (4) This can be done with a wide variety of materials such as concrete, plastic, or foam. In certain cases, area-specific materials, such as mud and sand can act as substitutes. (5) Although sometimes faced with material challenges, additive construction continues to find ways past them. Currently, in construction, 3D printers are mainly used to construct the frame of the house. To have it fully functional still requires the use of manual labour. 3D printing the base of the structure of the home and the spaces needed for electrical and water saves time and reduces manual labour.

The Future

What does the future hold for 3D printing within architecture and construction? 3D modelling and building prototypes have allowed architects to reach new levels of productivity and experiment like never before. If 3D printing were to become standard practice in the construction industry, the potential is endless. With the experimental use of biodegradable materials, many believe that 3D printing may be the solution to the amount of waste produced within construction and architecture by more traditional methods.  

One example of an application would be in disaster response in which the creation of temporary shelters for those affected by natural disasters has become imminently feasible. Others are focusing their efforts on creating 3D printers that are capable of producing larger structures that are beyond present 3D printing technologies. Over the past two decades, 3D printing has seen exponential growth. It has become a part of a wide variety of industries and has demonstrated a multitude of uses. It is constantly expanding our limits and capabilities. If 3D printing has proven one thing, it is becoming a permanent tool in our society’s growth!

(1) https://3duniverse.org/2018/10/12/architects-using-3d-printing-today/

(2) https://www.sculpteo.com/en/3d-learning-hub/applications-of-3d-printing/construction-and-architecture/

(3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdbJP8Gxqog

(4) https://www.curt.org/3d-printing-real-possibilities-for-infrastructure/ 

(5) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autcon.2016.08.026