3D Printed Architecture: Complex Models with a Large 3D Printer

The Architect’s Need for Compelling 3D Models

The majority of buildings, particularly high-profile or large ones, are commissioned through a design competition. A central moment is the presentation of a large 3D model of one or several designs.

Architectural teams must present a model that communicates an intriguing vision of their concept to the audience, surprising them, fascinating them, demonstrating the details, but also persuading them that it has been well thought out to be successful.

Large architectural models for presentation are currently created by hot-wire, laser, or the manual cutting of different parts of the model before gluing them together.

The models are built utilizing Styrofoam, cardboard, wood or different materials. They are often time-consuming and take a high amount of cost and labor to create.

This is especially applicable to the organic and complicated designs which architects frequently develop in the present day with the assistance of 3D design software.

Architectural practices now must choose between accepting huge costs and lead times for a maximum specification model or decreasing their ambition.

Manual model-building also increases risks that are inherent to the process, such as time overruns, damage to intricate features, and errors.

These issues can result from human error because of a miscalculation, a lapse in workmanship, or the sheer difficulty of creating a particular form.

These kinds of errors are more prone to happen with the type of complicated designs that 3D software enables, especially when users are aiming to produce it to maximum specification.

Options Architects Face in Large-Scale Model-Making

These factors related to risk, cost, and time create a predicament. On the other hand, the expenditure of more money will not necessarily result in more contracts.

Architect Marco Mattia Cristofori explains, “However good your idea is, if you do not present it impressively and clearly at that clutch presentation, you will end up losing your chance to see it progress to the next stage.

Large-scale models are critical for an architect. Traditional methods are just too expensive, can take months to realize, and mistakes tend to creep in, making the whole process longer.

Marco Mattia Cristofori, Product Designer, BigRep

Why not 3D Print a Presentation-Quality Model?

An architect who completed his training at the Roma Tre University, Marco Mattia Cristofori has worked at studios based in the USA, UK, and Turkey.

He set himself a challenge shortly after joining BigRep as a product designer. He understood that the majority of architects already used desktop 3D printing technology to create small and early-stage models.

After a short duration working with BigRep’s printers, Marco envisioned the potential of large-scale industrial 3D printers that could create large and detailed objects in a highly accurate manner.

It was clear that BigRep printers could create beneficial early-stage models, but what about intriguing presentation-quality pieces? It was possible that they could outperform existing techniques. He decided to assess his theory by designing a concept building and creating a competition-entry-level 1:50-scale model by 3D printing it.

Cristofori’s creative method brought him to design for a villa complex located on hilly terrain, he explained, I was inspired by the ‘organic forms’ found in some contemporary architecture, adding filleted corners, and inclining the building slabs to match the sloped terrain.

Elements of the design meant that 3D printing the model would be an excellent test for BigRep technology. The design reduces the use of material which creates a delicate total structure.

It comprises of several highly specific details, often repeated many times, for example, a lip throughout the roof structure, rounded corners, and repeated elements such as the recessed stripes and light holes.

It was necessary to maintain consistent, precise, and accurate production of these delicate characteristics to achieve the desired effect. At 200 m2, the design was large enough for a 1:50 model to be adequate in size.

I came up with a design which would really test out the capabilities of BigRep technology: to 3D print a high quality architectural Model.

Marco Mattia Cristofori, Product Designer, BigRep

Make it in 1-2-3

Cristofori explained that creating the model with a BigRep STUDIO was a simple three-step process that involved 11 working days of production after completing the design stage.

1. Modeling the Design on CAD Software

The CAD model was employed in its original form because the Villa design was to be printed in complete detail. Cristofori used Rhinoceros, but any exported 3D model file (STL/OBJ) is sufficient for this task.

2. Printing the Design in 12 Sections

The CAD file was divided into 12 portions, which were ‘sliced’ utilizing the 3D printer software ‘Simplify 3D’. The parts were then printed on a BigRep STUDIO in BigRep’s Mauer Grau.

True Berlin Color PLA 3D printer filament. Cristofori selected a print layer height of 0.3 mm and a 0.6 mm nozzle for a high-resolution finish.

The total time taken to print was 120 hours. Allowing one working day for slicing and using overnight printing meant that this step was completed in only six days. It could have been made quicker with other print resolution settings.

Cristofori integrated a ‘snap-fit’ solution into the design to make it simple to attach the sections during this step. This method enables modular design changes to be made: modifying and reprinting individual parts and then easily snapping them into position.

3. Assembly and Surface Finishing

The last step was to assemble the sections and make the required surface finish. Some dowel rod and printed transparent film sections were added at this point.

It was not a time-consuming task to finish assembling the sections, and the high-resolution prints meant that the model already looked very pleasing. Cristofori opted for a smooth painted finish, manually post-processing by sanding before painting the external surfaces.

Assembly and finishing needed five full days of labor, with the glue and paint drying time being scheduled overnight.

Activity Model-Making Time Required
Step 1: CAD Modeling 0 (follows from the design process)
Step 2: Printing the Design 6 Days (1 for Slicing, 5 for Printing)
Step 3: Assembly and Finishing 5 Days
Steps 1-3: Full Model Production 11 Days

A Display Piece

Cristofori created a high-impact, beautifully finished model that could qualify as a final competition entry using the BigRep STUDIO.

The printer exceeded expectations in producing a hardy model that maintained all of the intricate, fragile design elements, matching the CAD file exactly.

The labor and lead time needed to create this high-quality model was much less than what would be expected using traditional production techniques. A standard approach would be to laser cut cardboard in several sections before assembling these.

Single pieces could be employed for the flat facades, with several layers being glued together for corners, and various solutions and improvisation would be required for the more complex details.

Cristofori explained that a normal architectural firm would give a model-maker a month to manufacture such a model. The 11-day BigRep 3D-printed solution therefore provides a 50% decrease in both labor cost and production time.

The highly consistent, detailed, and clean finish acquired using the BigRep model would not be possible to achieve using the one-month laser-cut method.

An increased budget and expenditure of time would make it more possible, but aiming for such a high-quality finish would maximize the risks to the project.

The BigRep STUDIO provided an outstanding result by printing complicated objects quickly and accurately as it is designed to do.

Cristofori states, “If you are a designer or an architect with experience, you will instantly understand the amount of time saved using this technology to produce a physical model like this.

Architects will also appreciate that this quality of the model would not be possible to make with traditional methods without the introduction of additional risks.

For architects, 3D print technology is not just a tool for research, it makes it possible to present increasingly complex, contemporary architectural ideas to key audiences impressively and convincingly.

Marco Mattia Cristofori, Product Designer, BigRep

In contrast to the other production systems, if we 3D print then we don’t need to simplify the model at all. We can retain as many details as we want.

Marco Mattia Cristofori, Product Designer, BigRep

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by BigRep.

For more information on this source, please visit BigRep.

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