5 Different Ways Architects Use 3D Printers – by Piet Meijs

Welcome to the second in our series on Architectural 3D Printing, written by our guest blogger Piet Meijs, Senior 3D Expert at Rietveld Architects, New York. Enjoy! (Sam Green)

In general, architectural models are made for one reason: Communication. However, what you want to communicate varies according to what phase of the project you’re at. In my office at Rietveld Architects we try to make 3D printed models for every phase of every project. Today, I will explain how we use Objet 3D printed models in a number of those phases.

Project Acquisition
There are many ways to win new architectural projects. Sometimes projects come to you; but most of the time, you have to go after them yourself. When developing new business, you have to first of all communicate your ideas in a clear and concise manner. A 3D printed model is very useful for this. First off, although many people will never admit it, people generally have a hard time reading drawings. It takes training and experience to really visualize a 3D idea explained in 2D drawings. 3D images and renderings help but they also have their limitations. One big disadvantage of a 3D image is that these days, they tend to be generated to look ‘photo realistic’. So all of a sudden the “concept” has become a finalized plan with no further room for adaptation or change. A 3D printed model has the advantage of being able to communicate the idea while staying abstract enough to encourage discussion and new inputs – an important benefit when developing a client relationship!

Preliminary Design: Urban Scale
A building never stands by itself – it’s always part of a wider context. Even if it stands in an empty field, that field is the building’s context. A good design takes this into account and responds to its surroundings or context. In the urban design phase it’s therefore important to study the effects of a new ‘mass’ on its surroundings. In our office we like to show our clients how we propose to change and improve the urban plan with our design. A very nice way of doing this is by 3D printing a model of the existing site (context model) with a removable “plug” of the proposed project site. We then built several design iteration plugs which we can switch around within the context model. The big advantage of doing this with a 3D printer is that you only have to edit the previous plug computer model, rather than having to start from scratch for every plug.

Preliminary Design: Building Scale
The task in every design phase is to arrive at a cohesive design that includes all the requested requirements such as program, cost, code compliance, etc. When we look at the preliminary design phase for a building, all the various requirements need to be included in a way that makes sense. This spatial arrangement of different functions and programs can be shown in 2D diagrams, but we also like to use 3D models for this. In a 2D diagram you can use colors to indicate the different functions. In our 3D models we use different facade types for different functions. This fits our architectural style best. We like people to “read” a building from its exterior. We design open or public spaces to have a very inviting transparent facade, whereas residential facades will have a more closed and private character.

Construction: Detail scale
As an architectural project progresses, the nature of our 3D models changes. Since the larger “ideas” of the project are set, we then move on to the finer details. In interior design this often means the hardware, finishes, and decorative items. For example, at Rietveld we typically use our Objet 3D printer to create 1:1 scale models of custom designed interior features such as faucet fixtures and even a custom designed  21″ cast iron light fixture! Since these items were custom designed, using 3D printing was the only way for the client to determine if this is what they really wanted.

Final Presentation
3D printed models not only serve as a tool during the design and the construction process of a project – they are also great for final display purposes. At the Rietveld office we have many of our projects arrayed together. As well as creating a nice display for potential clients, it also helps us to compare the ‘flow’ of our various designs over time. Some of these projects are now real buildings which we’ve experienced in real life, we can then look at the current models and get a good sense of what they will really be like once they’ve been constructed. It’s also worth noting that clients love to have a 3D model of their latest project on their desk to show off to their potential clients, while the same goes for new tenants. With a 3D printer, this couldn’t be easier.

This post is also available in: Korean

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