3D printing is about to unveil a digital design revolution as per the architect James Gardiner. According to him, it will alter our world the way the industrial revolution did in the 18th and 19th centuries. He has contagious enthusiasm for the technology. Like he said:
“Using 3D-printed wax moulds for concrete components, we will have a completely different paradigm. This is transformative technology.”
Similar to a conventional “ink-jet” printer, technology is used by the 3D printer, however it creates layers in three dimensions by means of wax, concrete or plastics in order to build a solid structure or mould.
As we know traditional making uses uniform, mass-produced, prefabricated products; 3D printing allows for one-off, creative designs at a fraction of the price. Dr Gardiner no only wants the way we think about things, but also wants to further advance his work on 3D-printed artificial reefs. This month, some of his designs for artificial ocean reefs are being exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum’s exhibition, Out of Hand, Materialising the Digital.
According to Dr Gardiner,
“Most artificial reefs use simple, cheap materials that are simplistic and homogenous. They are not well suited for their purpose. Real reef assemblage is complex and multifunctional.”
Well, no doubt his designs are visually inspiring, but the real question is do they work? A biologist and an expert on artificial reefs at the University of NSW, James Smith took a look at Dr Gardiner’s designs.
He said that he is fascinated in the creation of 3D-printed reefs with fine-scale texture while prefabricated steel and concrete reefs have turned out to be cost-effective.
As per Dr Smith,
“The designed reefs we typically deploy lack much surface texture, and we notice that the marine life that colonizes these reef surfaces can sometimes fall off. This could be reduced with more complex surface textures. The current prefab steel and concrete structures are likely to be the go-to for some time but I would love to see some more innovation of surface textures of these prefab reefs though, and 3D printing may be a great way to explore this.”
David Lennon worked with Dr Gardiner on his early ref designs and runs the company Reef Design Lab. Mr Lennon mentioned:
“What I loved and was excited about was that James’ 3D-printed reefs allowed for a more organic and natural structure. The complexity of structure in a reef relates to the species diversity. But these structures aren’t just good for the fish and coral, the aesthetics of it are good for tourism, too.”
Through Dr Gardiner’s revolutions, Laing O’Rourke, the company Dr Gardiner works for is going to launch the world’s biggest 3D printer. It will build wax moulds for concrete construction components. As per him, this will assist the architects and designers to think outside the box.
“No one thinks about making buildings like the Queen Victoria Building any more. The labour costs would be prohibitive. However, using printed wax moulds we make, architects can start to think about completely new designs.”
Most one-off bespoke panels for construction are beyond the budgets of most builders. These costs will be brought down by his technology, he told.
Dr Gardiner mentioned:
“With 3D-printed architectural components we can incorporate aesthetic, structural, acoustic, thermal into a single design. It will bring meaningful change into the construction industry. A process that would have taken days or weeks can be a two-hour process. And we recycle all our materials.”
High-resolution details can be attained by the 3D printing and milling process. Dr Gardiner said, “We could mill [Michelangelo’s] statue of David.”
Matthew Connell, the curator of the Powerhouse exhibition, holds the view that 3D printing is letting designers across the board to think things afresh. As he mentioned:
“It allows for the role of the organic, for biomimicry, to return to design. We are used to straight, Euclidean shapes, but 3D printing allows us to jump constraint of design.”
At the Powerhouse, the artefacts that are being exhibited are very diverse, including the world’s first 3D-printed jet engine and a Michael Schmidt-designed printed dress originally modelled by Dita Von Teese. This weekend, the exhibition opened as part of the Sydney Design Festival.