Animal Printheads Biomimicry – photo by John Becker
Biomimicry is quickly emerging as one of the next architectural frontiers. New manufacturing processes such as 3D printing, coupled with the drive to make buildings more environmentally sustainable, have led to a wave of projects that are derived from natural phenomena or even constructed with biological materials. A recent example of this trend is “Hy-Fi,” this summer’s MoMA PS1 design that is constructed of organic and compostable eco-bricks. Other projects such as MIT Media Lab’s Silk Pavilion have taken biological innovation a step further by actually using a biometric construction processes – around 6,500 silkworms wove the Silk Pavilion’s membrane. “Animal Printheads,” asGeoff Manaugh calls them in his article “Architecture-By-Bee and Other Animal Printheads,” have already proven to be a viable part of the manufacturing process in art, and perhaps in the future, the built environment as well. But what happens when humans engineer animals to 3D print other materials?
Design is what shapes our built environment. But as we progress, creatives are turning more and more to nature – exploring biological systems and organic materials – as their driving influence for developing new products and constructed networks. It is no secret that technology and science are playing a larger role than ever before in shaping our world; and designers are harnessing the research and findings from these sectors to establish progressive and innovative products that could change our lives.
In particular, advancements in 3D printing are enabling us to process and manufacture ideas at a more rapid rate, which is changing the entire production industry. Jake Evill combines 3D scanning and printing technologies to develop a cast that could eliminate the clumsy plaster versions that have been bringing fracture stability for ages. Evill’s design takes into consideration the exact dimensions of the individual’s injured limb to ensure they are fitted with a cast that provides optimal comfort and support. This is the result of a mould that references an exoskeleton – a rigid external covering that is found on some invertebrates for protection. the make-up of the ‘cortex cast’, thus also provides a hygienic alternative. Being 3D printed from nylon makes it waterproof, easy to clean, super light, anatomically accurate as well as recyclable, just to name a few of its potential benefits; proving its potential to benefit to change the practice of extreme sports where athletes are more prone to frequent injury and broken bones is huge.
One of the major challenges in translating 3D Printing technology into architecture has been the issue of scale. So far, this has generally resulted in ever larger printers, with one of the most successful examples being the KamerMaker, which has been used to 3D print a Dutch Canal House in 2x2x3.5 metre chunks. However, recognizing the limitations on the size of 3D printers, the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) has developed a family of three small, mobile robots which together can print a structure of any size.
similar to 3D printers, the LIX quickly melts and cools colored plastic
London-based LIX has created the smallest 3D printing pen in the world. The device enables users to doodle in the air; you can make anything in just a few seconds, including calligraphy, accessories and one-off prototypes. Functioning similarly to 3D printers, the LIX quickly melts and cools colored plastic, which enables the pen to create rigid and freestanding structures on demand. Milled from aluminum, it measures 164mm x 14mm (approx 6.5″ x .5″), and includes a power cable that plugs into any traditional USB port for charging.
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First things ﬁrst: The term “3-D printing” is a misnomer according to Arthur Young-Spivey, the digital fabrication specialist at NRI—a 116-year-old, New York–headquartered supplier of reprographic services to architects and their tradespeople. “The correct term is ‘additive manufacturing,’” he explains. “People call it 3-D printing because it enables you to wrap your head around it, but in some ways it’s confusing.”
Young-Spivey has a point, as the process by which a digital ﬁle is converted into an object isn’t “printing” in the commonly understood sense of applying pigment on a substrate. With 3-D printing, he says, “Instead of using paper, you’re printing with powder or plastics. It’s all one layer at a time.” The thinner the layer, the better the quality, and the longer the process takes. “And there’s always post-production processing, to clean up the model,” he adds. “That’s why ‘additive manufacturing’ is a more accurate description.”