Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Instant Arch: Self-supporting masonry with Vasari and Z Corp 3D Printing

Today’s guest blog is from Zachary Kron, Architectural Designer and Software Analyst for Autodesk.

Have you ever seen those elegant, light masonry arches that seem impossibly thin? Along with a little mortar to just help things stick together, they only use gravity and careful form making to stand up. How can you find that kind of arched form where the bricks are held together by gravity? And how could you make a cool 3D model of it?

I did a little masonry experiment in Autodesk® Project Vasari, a design tool for creating building concepts that is freely available for download as a Technology Preview from Autodesk Labs. Along with integrated analysis for solar, energy, and carbon data, Vasari includes a physics based form finding tool called Nucleus. This feature allows designers to simulate gravity, wind, constraints, and collisions on surfaces with different physical properties. Combined with the paneling tools in Vasari, I was able to simulate a compression masonry structure.

Starting from a rectangular surface, you can turning gravity upside down and making “hanging chain” models. These structurally efficient catenary curve based forms function entirely in compression.

If you break the surface down into individual “masonry bricks” with tiny gaps between them, you can 3D print out the results and test if the form is operating in compression.

The result of such a study should be a single form made out of many unconnected pieces.

In most fabrication scenarios, assembling this sort of structure out of individual pieces would be a nightmare of numbering, finding neighboring pieces, and creating temporary scaffold structures. In this experiment, however, the entire assembly was printed out on a Z Corp ZPrinter 450 pre-assembled, and the “scaffolding” was simply vacuumed out from underneath. No assembly required!

The biggest problem I encountered was that the joints were a little too perfect. They were so tight that I needed to sprinkle a darker pigment into the joints to demonstrate that it wasn’t actually a monolithic form.

I couldn’t find any instant coffee, so I used hot chocolate mix.

This form was relatively conservative in terms of stressing the compression system and creating tight joints. Next time we run this experiment, we’ll try creating a more pronounced gap on a more dynamic form.


  1. nice post, i looking for pattern based component like that used in tutorial, any information about it ? movie is too fast to understand how to get that same.. please help

  2. Nice posting am in the field. I happy to say this you are good to update your blog keep it up. All the best for your all project in success manner…