Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow? Thanks to a 2013 project by students at Slovenia’s University of Maribor, Mary might well respond, “by way of a 3-D printer.” The modified CNC (computerized numerical control) machine called PrintGREEN would certainly simplify the process needed to make Mary’s garden grow by simply printing it out for her—no spades or trowels necessary.
The team of arts education students behind the PrintGREEN project (Maja Petek, Tina Zidanšek, Urška Skaza, Danica Rženičnik, and Simon Tržan) came up with their unconventional invention during an Intermedia Arts course, uniting the disparate fields of art and technology with an environmentally conscious angle. Rather than printing text onto paper, PrintGREEN dispenses soil, water, and grass seed onto a felt-covered sponge surface. Instead of being tossed into the recycling bin, PrintGREEN’s output becomes a living sculpture.
There are plenty of creative applications for PrintGREEN’s technology. The CNC technology is sophisticated enough to trace recognizable shapes, from silhouettes of human faces to a neat typographical display at the 2014 3D Printshow London. The precise placement of the piped-out mud is impressive enough, but the coolest part is when the first shoots of grass start to sprout. The printer isn’t limited to flat surfaces, either; its ability to print along the z-axis means it can produce truly three-dimensional sculptures, carefully stacking layers of soil into the shape of planters so that the grass has somewhere to call home.
The team behind PrintGREEN hasn’t yet announced any plans to scale up their project, nor have they speculated on the possibility of its application to any uses other than thought-provoking demonstrations. In a sense, the project remains more art than technology, a curiosity more than a utilitarian innovation.