Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is seen by many as the future of architecture. In early 2015, a Chinese company built 10 houses in 24 hours by assembling 3D-printed pieces. Last summer, Dubai announced that it would be building the world’s first fully 3D-printed office building (though there has been no word on its progress yet). One new 3D printer can make houses out of mud. Another can print glass. And the latest can make complex, intricate designs out of concrete.
Engineers have already figured out how to print basic shapes in concrete but it's still a budding field. A new technique from AMALGAMMA, a team of architecture students from University College London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, opens up the world of concrete printing to even more complicated designs.
It combines two preexisting techniques used in 3D printing: powder-based and extrusion (in which melted material is pushed out of a printer head). Like other 3D printers, this one prints concrete one layer at a time. It deposits both the concrete and a binder material to keep it in place on a bed of what the creators call “support material”—the granular white stuff that looks like chunks of salt in the picture above.
This process presents “the opportunity to design forms that are more varied and more volumetric, as opposed to the very straight vertical forms so far achieved in 3D concrete practice,” the architects write on their website. It can print at a 1 centimeter resolution, meaning it can make intricate, small designs. A print job takes 6 to 10 hours.
The team hopes to one day be able to print entire structures with their technique, though that may not be realistic in the near future. In the meantime, it could be used to print smaller objects in concrete, like furniture or components of a building, including stairs or decorative bricks.
All images courtesy AMALGAMMA