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3D Printing for Architecture

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted May 22, 2013

A small Oakland, California-based company called Emerging Objects may hold the holy grail of 3D print design.

The four-person design team, a subsidiary of Rael San Fratello Architects, has figured out a way to incorporate the use of different materials in the printing process – offering a solution to the limits of 3D printing.

3D printerTaking a look at the company website – – the eye is immediately captivated by obscure-looking pieces of art or design. It’s like a page torn straight out of Elle Décor magazine, filled with fancy little objects that would add a splash of flavor to your newly remodeled home. But I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Instead, taking a look below the surface, one will see the company is much more intricate than the objects that fill its home page.

As Emerging Objects would describe it, the company’s mission is to be “a pioneering design and research company that specializes in designing and 3D printing objects for the built environment using custom materials and processes.”

And it can do that right now with furniture, light fixtures, and pretty much whatever the customer’s mind can come up with.

3D Right Now

But in some sense, 3D printing is limited, starting with the material that’s available. The standard plastics used in much of 3D printing are limited.

A 3D printing machine works by adding a material layer by layer onto a platform following a digital design.

But the printed object can’t be larger than the size of the printer and has to be viable with the materials used to print it. So not only are plastics being used that are costly to produce – especially if the intention is to make a 3D object on a larger scale – but the object being produced is only as big as the printer used to construct it – usually fairly small.

An Emerging 3D Future

But Emerging Objects goes beyond the use of plastics and simple interior design.

Emerging Objects wants to create sustainable, repurposed, and recycled 3D printed buildings and building components that would be stronger, more complex, and less expensive than current processes.

The group currently works with six materials: acrylic, wood, nylon, salt, paper, and cement polymer.

Not only is the company creating a new look to 3D-printed objects, but the materials being used are good for the environment and much more cost effective.

Wood, salt, and paper ink can all be used as a recycled byproduct of things that have already been used – old furniture, used paper, anything! And natural materials like wood don’t need to be manufactured. So the manufacturing and production aspect of creating plastic is completely eliminated from the process, which also eliminates environmental hazards.

Acrylic, wood, and cement polymer can be fiber-reinforced for strength.

With the increase in durability and better materials, the finalized creation can also be fitted with different textures, depending on the desired effect.

3D printing has grown exponentially with this new technology; designers, architects, and anyone else who might be involved with construction, art, and design are looking at 3D printing as much more than just a nifty gimmick.

Emerging Architecture

The company’s cement polymer, which is made to look and feel like concrete, could stand to be a major breakthrough in architecture.

Little knick knacks for the home are cute and all, but a new kind of building material could revolutionize the construction industry.

And that is the plan for Emerging Objects moving into the future: to construct buildings, or at the very least build structures and components of construction that are cheaper, stronger, and more environmentally friendly than what is currently being used.

A large printer would still need to be manufactured, but as for the ink, Emerging Objects has that base covered.

Of course, rigorous testing would need to be done, and it’s still a long way off from actually being used to construct a building, but the idea and power is there.

It’s hard to imagine a home being built virtually by the use of a computer and a 3D printer. How would plumbing and insulation be incorporated? Is it really as strong as concrete? Stronger!?

These are all questions that need to be answered with lots and lots of testing. And then some more tests for good measure.

But these answers just might be closer than you think.


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