Great turning points in architecture begin in unexpected ways. A new and inexpensive production process to transform iron into steel made possible the rise of skyscrapers in the 20th century. When computer-aided design (CAD) replaced the work of manual drafting, it paved the way for the precisely mapped curves of the sculptural buildings by Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry.
In the last decade, a new technology has opened up new possibilities: 3D printing. Also called additive manufacturing, 3D printing involves adding materials in precise layers to realize an object drawn from a digital file.
After years of using it in their offices to print models, architects are now deploying 3D printing to create building elements and even whole structures. This permits them to reduce material waste, cut costs and development times, experiment with new materials, and create previously unseen architectural aesthetics.
“3D printing can have a game-changing impact when it is used to connect different materials and construction systems, or when tooling and molding are prohibitively expensive or limiting,” says Tristan Morgan, computational design and automation lead at engineering company Aurecon.