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3D, what will it be?

“Form is free, material is expensive,” in 3D printing innovators often say. The promise of parametric, computer-controlled 3D printing techniques is complete freedom of form with minimal use of materials.

In one of my early columns I expressed my enthusiasm about the designs for 3D-printed chairs, tables and bridges that artist Joris Laarman makes. His design for a pedestrian bridge, on display at the time in the Groninger Museum, had a slender, branch-like and efficient construction. Like structures in nature, it only contained material where lines of force required it. But his 3D-printed bridge that was recently placed in Amsterdam breaks with that approach. It has become a fairly bulky, almost massive lump of steel that spans the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. This could have been easier and more elegant with a simple rolled profile and sheet steel.

Last week, a piece in Cobouw suggested 3D concrete printing as a solution for affordable housing in Curaçao. I also have my doubts about this. Concrete-printed houses with massive facades and interior walls don't seem very material efficient to me. And certainly not future-oriented; after all, you can't easily expand them or adjust them in layout. Replacing or upgrading parts or giving the building a different function is not so easy either. At the end of the life cycle, nothing remains but the wrecking ball; disassembly, reuse and/or recycling will not be part of the process.

3D printing is now a proven technology. But better than large monolithic structures such as bridges or buildings, you can use them to create unique elements such as ingenious connecting nodes. That, in my view, is where its greatest potential lies. Smart, releasable knots and connections are the key then to new possibilities for adaptive buildings composed of dry-mounted components. Technology, aesthetics, future value and sustainability go hand in hand in this approach.


Ronald Schleurholts, architect-partner cepezed

Cobouw, October 20th, 2021