3D-Printed Room Looks Like Gaudí On Steroids, Could Signal New Age Of Architecture

By Ben Wolford on December 30, 2013 3:35 PM EST

3D Printed Room
The first 3D-printed room is made completely of sandstone and took about a month to assemble. Photo: Hansmeyer and Dillenberger

Architects in Zurich have erected an impossibly ornate room entirely from 3D-printed blocks. The designers say it's the first time anyone has used a 3D printer to design a work of architectural art from sandstone and could suggest a new way of thinking about building construction. "We aim to create an architecture that defies classification and reductionism," said the architects on the project's website.

We'll attempt to classify and reduce it anyway: It basically looks like Antoni Gaudí crammed all the flourishes of La Sagrada Familia into a 172-square-feet room. Designed by "customized algorithms," the architects say the work (called "Digital Grotesque") is "the first human-scale immersive space entirely constructed out of 3D-printed sandstone." It was commissioned as both a demonstration of the versatility, and utility, of 3D printing and as an art piece — a portion of the structure will go into the permanent collection of the FRAC Centre art museum in Orleans, France.

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Though it looks and feels like art, its construction was as cold and calculating as the inkjet printer on your desk. No masons with chisels. But architects Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology say "Digital Grotesque" is as stimulating as any Renaissance chapel. "It's all human input," Hansmeyer told Newsweek. "The computer is just a tool."

The number of things being 3D printed has exploded in the last few years. The process is becoming incredible versatile: 3D printers work by uploading digitally rendered blueprints for any kind of design you can imagine. Then they layer thin films of material, usually plastic, over and over until the object is formed. People have used it to make exact copies of dinosaur fossils, an invisibility cloak and even a car.

In each of these objects, the creativity is only limited by the size of the printer; most can't create objects longer than a few feet. To build the walls for "Digital Grotesque" (which were more than 10 feet high) the fabricators had to print 64 blocks using layers of sand (instead of plastic). According to Gizmag, the printer they used is capable of printing blocks that weigh 12 tons, which is why they used hollowed-out pieces. Stacked together, the entire room is comprised of 260 million distinct surfaces, a design too complex, perhaps, for any chisel. The printer made it happen in about 30 days.

"One of the most astounding things is that it costs exactly as much to 3D print a plain box as it does to print the most elaborate form conceivable," Hansmeyer told Gizmag. "Not only are the costs identical, but the amount of time required is the same as well. ... The implications of this are huge. There is no longer a cost for complexity. No cost for ornament. No cost for individuality."

Despite his optimism, the room still isn't cheap, Newsweek reported (though Hansmeyer didn't say how much). And there are other obstacles, as well. Experts told Newsweek that while a house contains parts using hundreds of kinds of materials, 3D printers are restricted to a few. They didn't expect that 3D-printed houses would start rolling off the presses any time soon. But one architectural history professor called it "a peek over the technological horizon."

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