3D printing technology to revolutionise architecture

Researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have joined forces to create “Rock Print”: a full-scale architectural installation made from only rock and string using 3D printing.

Standing over four metres high, Rock Print is a zero waste and fully reversible architectural installation. It is made from crushed rocks and string alone, held together through a principle called jamming, in which aggregate granular materials are literally crammed together in a way that they hold their form and shape like a solid material even though their molecular properties are closer to a liquid substance. With the help of a 3D printer, the researchers from the two world renowned technical universities show how jamming can be used on a full-scale installation.

One of the main advantages of such a construction is its low environmental footprint. Rock Print is made of two simple components found in everyday life: string and rocks, explains Petrus Aejmelaeus-Lindstroem, lead researcher for the project at ETH Zurich. The string is even made out of recycled textiles.

ETH professor Matthias Kohler calls 3D printing technology an inspiration for the future of architecture. “Such technology enables production of complex forms and intricate details of building elements at a minimal cost.”

Until now, commercially available 3D printing technologies have not been suitable for the scale needed for architectural installations. But the Rock Print installation expands the scope of 3D printing to an architectural scale and opens up the possibility to use advanced digital fabrication technology to build with sustainable and locally available materials.

Kohler is convinced that 3D printing technology will play a transformative role in the future. “I am positive that such new principles will not only lead to exciting architecture projects, but also to a new digital building culture – possibly to a socially relevant transformation of our built environment.”

Rock Print is on display until 3 January 2016 at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in the Chicago Cultural Center.

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