Wednesday, March 30, 2011

3D Printing in Cantilever Design

Today’s guest blog is from Peter Macapia, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Architecture at SCI-Arc and the Pratt Institute -

Materials Lab: Cantilever, Fall 2010
Peter Macapia and Tom Wiscombe, SCI-Arc (The Southern California Institute of Architecture: 960 East 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013)

The cantilever is one of the classical elements of engineering investigation. But rarely does its study enter into the design process as such. So what if we were to take the premise of the cantilever to design an architectural situation? In this course, Peter Macapia and Tom Wiscombe worked with a group of students at SCI-Arc to develop an architectural project using advanced computational tools and material testing in order to arrive at a project that would transform the traditional linear relationships between engineering and architecture. The goal was to develop a massive cantilever that sprung out of the entrance of SCI-Arc serving a number of spatial and programmatic functions. Using a structural growth algorithm provided by SolidThinking called Morphogenesis; we developed a diagrammatic study of potential structures. We then transformed the topological behavior of the diagram into another system. A morphogenetic process is iterative in the sense that multiple forces are repeatedly tested against the general form until an optimized structure is produced. Materially, the challenge was to convert the notion of a solid form into a surface, folding into the structural system, a system of enclosure or envelope.

Eventually we began to see a pattern of networks emerge around the panelization of the form. It became clear that if we introduced seam logic into the panels and thus subdivided the surface of the form into another structural network then we could reintegrate the original topological optimization into a new material and spatial logic. Because we were able to test this out in a scaled model with the help of Z Corporation 3D printed (ZPrinted) models, we could basically test how the pattern of panels could connect along seams that were now acting like a network of embedded structural ribs. They key difference is that the ribs were not supporting the surface; they were now an internal feature of it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Filling The Great Hall at the Cooper Union: 3D Printing Gains Momentum in AEC

On Tuesday evening, 15 March 2011, a ‘near historic’ event occurred at The Great Hall at The Cooper Union in New York City. No, it wasn’t a presidential speech like those given by Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Clinton. It was an AEC industry event sponsored by Microsol Resources and Z Corporation -- approximately 300 architects and engineers from greater New York filled The Great Hall to listen to four panelists and a moderator talk about 3D printing in architectural design. What’s that you say? 300 people!!! This large turnout is certainly an indication of the increasing momentum that 3D printing is gaining in the world of architecture, engineering and construction. There was a lot of buzz in the weeks leading up to this event. The energy level was high, and attendees were eager to enter The Great Hall to get things started.

All the stars were aligned for this event. There was the historic venue, a tour of the Morphosis-designed 41 Cooper Square building across the street, AIA credits for attendees, wine & cheese reception, and engaging educational content from our speakers. First up was Xavier De Kestelier from Foster+Partners in London. He talked about how they got started with 3D printing for a yacht design project and how quickly the ZPrinter became a critical design tool for every new project, especially buildings, interiors, and components with complex organic shapes. Foster+Partners now owns three of the largest automated ZPrinters which operate almost 24/7 and generate about 80% of all the models at Fosters. Architects and designers submit files in the afternoon and receive models on their desk the next morning. With a look to the future, Xavier finished his talk with a video showing current research at Loughborough University about full-scale printing of concrete building components.

 Up next was Patrick Sherwood of The Port Authority of NY/NJ. He spoke about their beginnings with 3D printing technology as a direct result of the 9/11 tragedy (they used to be located on the 73rd floor of WTC One-north tower). With a “temporary” move to Newark, the PA model shop invested in new systems to help architects collaborate with engineers and contractors on new projects. They started with a small ZPrinter, and then soon after invested in the largest ZPrinter available at the time. Unable to talk about current projects like the new Freedom Tower, Patrick gave two great examples including the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal and the Candela exhibit at Princeton University. Patrick concluded with the analogy that 3D printers are like the table saw and laser cutter of yesteryear – a modeling tool that every firm will eventually adopt.

Next came Wesley Wright of Pelli Clarke Pelli. He started with a brief video tour of their shop in New Haven, CT, with a voice over by the great Cesar Pelli himself. See video.

Wes walked through a number of 3D printed examples ranging from topological studies to urban master plans to “family portraits” of building design iterations. He also showed envelope geometry studies, custom ceiling and fascia, and structural connection models. Pelli Clarke Pelli often combines modeling techniques to make hybrid models, using the most appropriate technology for the job. The firm has invested in four rapid prototyping systems, two of which are ZPrinters which do most of the early design models due to speed and cost advantages.

The fourth speaker was Andrew Chary from upstate NY who owns a small practice with only seven employees. Up until Andrew spoke, many in the audience were probably thinking “sure, big firms like Fosters, the PA and PCP can afford a 3D printer, but what about a smaller practice like mine?” Well, Andrew handled that question with his thought-provoking presentation on how he deals with his clients, typically high-end custom home buyers. Aside from the improved communication benefits of 3D physical models (i.e. showing design details, managing client expectations, faster regulatory approvals, etc.), Andrew spoke about the ‘trust factor’ he builds with his clients and how this enables him to be more creative in his design work. He showed an example of a ‘snow angel chapel’ that inspired his client to buy into his dream and enabled him to more quickly earn the trust of both the client and the builder.

Andrew’s conclusion – not only does his ZPrinter provide tangible design process benefits and ROI, but it allows him to do what he wants and provides him “joie de vivre!”

With time running out, the evening’s moderator, Jay Dougherty, asked the panelists a few questions about how 3D printing technology fits in the design process for each firm, and then he took some questions from the audience around best workflows, getting started, training, associated costs, etc. Attendees were clearly engaged, even after almost three hours since arriving. Following the event, some attendees left The Great Hall to tour 41 Cooper Square, while others remained behind to talk to the panelists. Some went back to the lobby to look at ZPrinter models provided by the speakers. Clearly, there is a high level of interest in this technology in the AEC community.

For more photos, visit our Flickr page

If you were there, please give us your feedback on this ‘near historic’ event!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Building the “Sublime”

Today’s guest blog is from Daniela Bertol, co-founder of design firm Space Ink in New York City.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant defined the mathematical sublime as, "the mere ability to think which shows a faculty of the mind surpassing every standard of sense."

Architecture has been evocative of the beauty of mathematics for millennia while engineering has always used geometry in the design of structures. The mathematical proportions of Greek temples, the daring structural heights of Gothic cathedrals and the interplay of concave-convex forms of Baroque architecture are built expressions of geometric forms and mathematical concepts. Starting from the past century, traditional arches, vaults and domes have evolved in much more complex geometric configurations: ruled and minimal surfaces, space frames and geodesic structures and double curvature shells have been largely used in several building types from towers to large span structures.

The digital revolution of the last decade has greatly enhanced geometric explorations in architectural design. Computational based architectural design of forms has started in academic and theoretical investigations but recently has become more widespread in the actual design of “real” buildings. Academic explorations are often developed as digital models of complex geometries. Different types of digital modeling and animation applications are utilized, often combined with post-production “finishes.”

But, until recently, in spite of the three-dimensionality of digital architectural models, the only output was two-dimensional images, either renderings or video animations. While the process of generating forms with computer aided methodologies offered almost endless possibilities for the architectural design of complex geometries, the actual construction of each form was limited by the traditional available technologies.

Stereolithography brought a major advancement in the physical fabrication of virtual models but the time and costs involved were too high to be afforded by designers who were interested more in intellectual and aesthetics explorations of forms versus more pragmatic and commercial applications. The recent availability of affordable, time-efficient, cost-effective and highly accurate 3D printers, such as the ZPrinter line, have brought a new tool to designers. Geometric forms are not only virtual, but have become physical objects in the real three-dimensional world. Vivid colors can also be used in the 3d printing process itself, bringing a new level of appreciation to formal aesthetic qualities.
The transition from virtual models to real objects is an extremely interesting process. Designers face several challenges which are not experienced in the design of digital worlds: the scale of details, the connections between parts and their orientation, how models can be self standing ---in the virtual models there is no gravity... Although I have always been a great advocate of digital model based visualization, I have to admit that being able "to see and touch" a design inspired by unusual geometries can have a great impact on the process itself, particularly if the design will turn into buildings. The proportions between components and whole can also be fully tested with physical models, enabling the designer to make "educated" evaluations.

And, besides all these functionality based reasoning... it is truly exciting to see worlds inspired by complex geometries come to life, as we are finally able to build the “mathematical sublime”!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Is 3D Printing Ready For Mainstream in AEC?

Recently, there have been some posts in the LinkedIn group called 3D Printing for Architects that addressed the usage of 3D printing in mainstream practice. The discussion started with this question:

What percentage of architects actually use 3DP for creating models? Has it become part of the standard design process, or just a really cool fad …?

Over the past three years, I have seen growth in interest and adoption of 3D printing in architectural firms, even during the economic downturn. Is it industry standard yet? Probably not. But I believe that we are well into the early adopter phase and about to take that big leap across the chasm! Why do I believe this? Well, aside from seeing year-over-year growth in the sales of ZPrinters in AEC, we are now witnessing quite a phenomenon for an event that Z Corp. and its channel partner, Microsol Resources, have organized for March 15th in New York. A panel discussion including speakers from large firms Foster+Partners, The Port Authority of NY/NJ, a medium large firm Pelli Clarke Pelli, and a small practice Andrew Chary Architect will take place during the evening at The Great Hall of The Cooper Union.

Originally, we planned to host this event across the street in the new Cooper Union building where the auditorium holds 200 people. However, as of this blog posting, we have exceeded 500 registrations! Fortunately, The Great Hall holds 900 people (history tells us that Abe Lincoln filled the hall during his presidential campaign when he delivered the famous Right Makes Might speech). Our panelists may not be campaigning for political office, but they do have great stories to tell about 3D printing as a strategic and integral part of their respective design practices. Why the sudden interest in this technology by so many people? We are not quite sure if it’s the Cooper Union venue, the AIA credits, the esteemed panel, or the subject matter, but I am betting that most folks who are willing to commit 2+ hours of their time on a Tuesday night are seriously interested in crossing the chasm.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Can You Teach Innovation?

Today's guest post is by Scott Harmon, Z Corporation VP of Business Development

“We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world”
-President Obama
 State of the Union, Jan. 25, 2011

For years, leaders across business, government and education have expressed increasing concern about America’s continued decline in fields like engineering and manufacturing. Student performance continues to lag other developed nations, especially in math, science and engineering fields. Companies continue to ship engineering and manufacturing jobs overseas. Government efforts to counteract these trends do not appear to be working.

Everyone seems to agree that there’s a problem. Everyone seems to be trying to solve it, but for some reason we continue to lose ground in critical innovation competencies like engineering and manufacturing. Why? Because Thomas Edison was right. He said:

“None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.”

Trial after Trial. 99% Perspiration. Real innovation is hard. Engineering is hard. Math is hard. Science is hard. It’s no wonder kids don’t like learning these subjects. They see all the trial and hard work, but don’t get to experience the joy of innovation, the inspirational aspects until much later.

Z Corp. developed a basic curriculum of materials that will help students derive the most educational benefit from their ZPrinters. The curriculum is oriented around the National Science Education Standards for Technological Design as developed by the National Research Council. The members of the National Research Council are drawn from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

In the hands of great teachers, Z Corporation 3D printers and the accompanying curricula provide the kinds of inspirational experiences that motivate students to explore tough subjects like engineering and architecture. Low cost, easy to use 3D printers in the classroom help kids experience the joy of making things, the thrill that comes from creating something that works. With 3D printers, kids can experience engineering and architectural design all the way through to the physical solution they designed. They’re not simulating. They’re not pretending. They’re not looking at someone else’s work. They’re creating.

“Showing off their innovations in the trophy case is a point of pride for SITHS students and keeps them inspired to continually improve their work.”
-Frank Mazza, Instructor, Staten Island Technical High School

“When students hold parts in their hands, they’re closing the loop. Until then, it’s all conceptual, virtual and 2D. Completing the circle is important. It turns kids on.”
-Bruce Weirich, Instructor, Ontario High School, Mansfield, OH

Innovation, invention, and engineering may be 99% Perspiration, but if we can help kids experience the 1% Inspiration, the joy of creating, maybe we can get back to out-innovating, out-educating and out-building the rest of the world.

Free AEC Event (New York City):

How Leading Architects Leverage 3D Printing for Smarter, Competitive Design (Microsol Resources)