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!