The methodologies used in designing contemporary buildings implement Building Information Modeling (BIM) as a platform for integrating construction data bases. BIM seeks to bring together all information related to buildings in integral models that make for interaction between the different agents involved in the construction process, and coordination between the different disciplines that have a part in it. Global implementation of BIM systems would eventually allow direct interaction, and from the start of design, which would result in an unprecedented degree of control of the project, from the conceptualization phase all the way to execution and delivery. Although this methodology facilitates the subsequent management of the building through the virtual model, the fact is that there still has been no deep delving into the possibilities of application in the construction industry. A disadvantage of this kind of software is, curiously, its tendency toward standardization, a tendency which can be understood as a reasonable perspective, but which can ultimately be detrimental in an environment as changing as that of digital fabrication.
Adrian Priestman [www.deezeen.com]
The popularization of digital fabrication for architecture and engineering has undergone unprecedented growth in recent years. More and more architecture schools have a fabrication space (Fab Lab), and standards like MIT’s FabAcademy seal are increasingly important. Digital fabrication methods have a growing presence in the execution of projects all over the world, at all scales, whether with laser cutting, milling, or 3D printing. The consequences of this revolution in the development of professional practice nevertheless remain to be seen.
FabLabUE, Universidad Europea de Madrid
In spite of major progress made in CAD/CAM (Computer-Aided Design/ Computer-Aided Manufacturing), the current flow of work from design stage to fabrication can still be difficult for architects, designers, and builders to follow. Design concepts still mostly arise from two-dimensional sketches that become, at best, three-dimensional CAD models. This can be achieved through a traditional model or through the capture of a real object with a device for 3D scanning. These devices make it possible to digitalize any object or environment through clouds of points which, adequately treated with precise algorithms of meshing, create virtually reliable representations. Although it is still a high-cost technology, projects like Google’s Tango will in the short run enable any user to reproduce built environments in real time.
As a discipline, architecture is going through a deep transformation process much influenced by the democratization of parametric design and digital fabrication software, and also the growing use of complex geometries in design, which requires high degrees of control and rationalization. In the construction industry, 3D printing has evolved to recreate previously impossible forms, accelerate building processes, increase precision and control, and reduce the costs of materials and labor during construction. Moreover, thanks to new tools mentioned above, it is possible to minimize the impact of using certain tools that require high degrees of qualification from the design process all the way to production.
In addition, we have the fact that largesize 3D printing has great potential for saving material; the saving is estimated to be somewhere between 60% and 70% of total building costs. The construction sector, moreover, uses 40% of the natural resources extracted in the most industrialized countries, and produces between 40% and 60% of wastes accumulated in dumps, which gives a good idea of what the impact on savings that 3D printing could mean.
AEQUOREA. Vincent Callebaut
Oceanscraper printed in 3D from the seventh continent’s garbage
Nevertheless, additive fabrication for construction is still a technology to explore in the area of environmental benefits, which presents many possibilities, especially in terms of rethinking professional practice from the angle of sustainability at all levels. Among the advantages are control of residues, production without wastes (only the necessary is printed), and reduction of ecological footprint by minimizing operating costs and optimizing time. On the other hand, the application of 3D printing opens up a gamut of organic and recycled materials for the non-structural parts of the buildings; organic materials which, unlike traditional ones, are easily obtainable from their equivalents of raw materials.
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