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3D Printing and Pavilions

Regular architectural commissions and competitions, in particular those for temporary structures or pavilions, offer fertile ground for experimentation and this has the potential to embrace the best of AM. When designs are experimental, time is tight and clever solutions are just the thing, surely 3D printing has a valuable part to play? After all, 3D printing and experimentation make excellent partners.

We particularly enjoy seeing what the Serpentine Gallery’s pavilion in London brings each summer. Now, we have to declare our special interest in this project. For the last eleven years, our sister company, Stage One, has manufactured and installed each of these incredibly diverse structures. Occupying the adjacent office space means we get a sneak peek of these in the making, quite possibly feeding our keen interest in this type of commission. Honestly? The creativity at work here is amazing: from the fact that each year’s design contrasts so spectacularly from the previous one, to the ability of our Stage One colleagues to deliver each of these wildly different structures in just six months.

This year, we've been lucky enough to get involved. Stage One asked us to 3D print a highly detailed architectural model of a design for the 2020 Serpentine Pavilion. This was used in the design development process and the architects, experimental South African studio Counterspace, were (of course!) excited at the idea of using 3D printing as a tool to inform their design. Architectural models are an obvious good match for us, rendering detail quickly and providing useful information for both the architect and their client. The header image above shows a render of this year's design - we’re looking forward to seeing the finished pavilion in the summer!

We’ve contributed to a pavilion for Stage One before. Whilst this was limited to a series of bespoke and differently shaped pegs and small features, these items were nevertheless integral to the design. The MINI Living concept is a pretty interesting one. A series of micro-living environments, each a kind of live-able pavilion, taking the idea of compact living to a whole new level. The objective of the concept meant that the tiniest details were important and, in fact, integral to the design as a whole. We loved this. And it was such a good fit for 3D printing.

We mentioned this mesh pavilion in our previous blog on construction. Located in Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, the AIRMESH construction comprises 200+ rods connected by 54 3D printed steel nodes. It took Singapore University’s Architectural Intelligence Research Lab (AIRLAB) five years to research. FIVE years. In contrast, the pavilion itself was put up in just two days, using six hex keys. That investment in research is both admirable and incredibly valuable. Obviously, AIRLAB are hoping that many of the techniques employed in creating the pavilion can be applied to future projects. In Dezeen's article they note:

"As 3D printing technologies are maturing to match the mechanical, scale and speed requirements of construction, systematic research regarding applications and technologies becomes essential," AIRLAB studio.

We would, of course, whole heartedly agree.

Sticking with the Southern Hemisphere, Melbourne’s annual Mpavilion programme describes itself as “Australia’s leading architecture commission and a cultural laboratory for the community to engage and share” A cultural laboratory? Nice. And certainly, evocative of the industry collaboration and experimentation needed to push 3D printing firmly into the architectural world.

Currently, limitations inherent 3D print materials and budget stand in the way. But just as aerospace and the automotive industry have embraced AM, so is construction. At least, as far as the printing of whole buildings is concerned. This article published by International Construction declares that a 3D printing breakthrough is imminent. But it’s referring to the large robotic arm and gantries used to print very large structures. Between the small 3D printed design elements (such as our Mini Living pegs), architectural models, and components like those in the AIRMESH pavilion on the one hand, and entire 3D printed buildings on the other, surely there’s plenty of space for AM to grow?

Pavilions offer the opportunity to be innovative, challenging, collaborative and maybe even deliberately controversial. In East London, Haggerston’s Antepavilion commission, established in 2017, declares its aim as follows: “to promote independent thought and symbiotic creativity in the fields of Art, Craft and Architecture”. They aren’t afraid of controversy and actively seek to expose and question the authoritarian workings of our planning culture.

How does that relate to 3D printing? That questioning, challenging approach is what’s interesting. 3D printing is a disruptive force in manufacturing. It offers a completely different way of doing things. It challenges designers and manufacturers to think differently and make differently.

It's good to question the norm. Good to question how things have always been done. That’s what brings about innovation and change. It might just bring about a bit more 3D printing in architecture too.

If you have a project we can help with, please get in touch!