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Design for 3-D “Printed” Building Under Way
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3-D rendering of a building in the shape of a Möbius strip
Universe Architecture, based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, plans to use a 3-D printer to create a building in the shape of a Möbius strip. The building will be printed using sand and a bonding agent to create free-form, concretelike shapes. Glass and steel will be added to enclose the sides of the building. © Universe Architecture

Three-dimensional printing is continually being applied to larger and larger projects, and now plans are under way to create an entire building using the process.

February 5, 2013—Three-dimensional (3-D) printing, a relatively new concept, is being used to build larger and more complex items, redefining the manufacturing landscape as each new development occurs. Now Universe Architecture, based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, is pushing the limits of 3-D printing even further. The company is currently refining its design for a building that will be printed using a 3-D printer created by Italian researcher and civil engineer Enrico Dini.

Based on the Möbius strip, which has no beginning and no end, the twisting three-story building will include a basement, a ground floor, and a first floor for a total of 1,167 m2. Global interest in the building and construction method is acute, and the building currently has the potential to be constructed as a visitor’s center at a National Park in Brazil, among other options, according to architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars, the founder of Universe Architecture and the lead designer.

The building will be printed using the method developed by Dini wherein a layer of sand is spread in a thin sheet and then sprayed with a chlorine-based liquid to create a stonelike substance. (See “Printing Adds a New Dimension to Design,” Civil Engineering online, August 14, 2012.) As multiple layers of sand are laid, and sprayed, the free-form structure begins to take shape. 

 Rendering of stairs

Mathematician and artist Rinus Roelofs helped Universe
Architecture refine the Möbius strip-based design over the
years so that stairs could be added and the interior spaces
could become usable. © Universe Architecture

The idea of using 3-D printing technology to create the building was a product of the architects’ desire to create a structure with no beginning and no end. A variety of other materials and methods were considered, and discarded, as being unsuitable for the task before 3-D printing was selected. “For us, it was a fundamental connection between the technique and the design, because with the 3-D printer you can print from the bottom to the top, and once you’re finished you have sort of an impossible figure,” Ruijssenaars says.

The building was originally conceived as a submission for a 2009 design competition for a home in Ireland—a competition it did not win. Since that time, however, the architects have been refining the idea—landing upon the concept of 3-D printing to create the free-flowing shape and working with mathematician and artist Rinus Roelofs to refine the design over the years so that stairs could be added to make the interior spaces accessible without altering the design.

With the addition of Dini to the project, and his experience with creating large-scale 3-D printed structures, the need for a strengthened building was addressed with further modifications to the design. “He found a solution where you print the outside measurement of the ceiling or of the floor… you could basically print the complex turning and twisting of the ceiling without having to make a very complex mold,” Ruijssenaars explains. Fiber-reinforced concrete can then be injected between the enclosed, but hollow, layers. The hollow spaces between the printed floor and ceiling layers can also be used for steel additions or such fixtures as plumbing, Ruijssenaars says.

 Rendering of the building's basement which takes the shape of the structure

The twisting building will include a basement, a ground floor, and a
first floor for a total of 1,167 m2. A hollow core forming the shape
of the structure will be injected with fiber-reinforced concrete.
© Universe Architecture

The current concept requires that pieces measuring 6 by 9 m and two stories in height be printed and then attached together with injected fiber-reinforced concrete. The embedments that will be used to give strength at the joints will be made either of the printed material or of steel, Ruijssenaars says. Glass and steel sides will be added to the building to enclose the spaces without obstructing the surrounding landscape.

As a result of the massive global attention that the project is receiving, the design team is currently considering ways in which the technology can be adapted so that the printed structure can be created as a monolithic piece before the glass and steel exteriors are added rather than as two large sections. “We have some time in the coming year to think a few variations over,” Ruijssenaars says.

According to Ruijssenaars, the firm would like to create several 3-D printed Möbius buildings for placement in a variety of landscapes so that the interplay of the natural world and the structure can be enhanced. However, he says, the design team is currently interested in one building per country, maximum, of this particular design. “The printer will go to the country and print, if possible, with local ground,” Ruijssenaars says. If this is possible, it could have significant implications for the timing, costs, and sustainability of the projects. “You need electricity and some liquid, and basically you make sand or grind stone [and] you print it up again in a new shape, and that’s it,” he says. “The whole thought is very beautiful, isn’t it?”

The Amsterdam office of the global engineering firm Arup, as well as Bollinger + Grohmann, based in Frankfurt, Germany, are the engineers currently associated with the project. The dates for construction of the building, or buildings, are yet to be determined but the target is 2014.


 

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