Foodies, have you been to 3D Systems’ Culinary Lab yet? The Los Angeles lab, which opened in October, was designed as a collaborative learning space for chefs, mixologists and other food industry professionals to experiment with 3D food printing. About once a month, the lab opens itself up to guests from the culinary, event and hospitality industries through workshops and lectures. If you’re one of those lucky industry guests, you might attend a workshop focused on a particular type of food, like a savory dish for example, and learn how 3D printed elements can be incorporated into it.
While attending that workshop, you’ll also be given a tour of the facility. In the kitchen, you will be given a demonstration of one of the lab’s ChefJet Pro food printers, and when you step outside the kitchen, you can look around and appreciate the interior design aesthetics of Oyler Wu Collaborative, who were contracted to design the space, and OH MY WHAT KIND OF 3D PRINTED MUSHROOMS WERE THOSE BECAUSE THAT STAIRCASE IS BREATHING.
Relax, you’re fine. The MC Escher-esque staircase in the center of the building does, apparently, appear to breathe or otherwise move as you walk past it, but it’s just an optical illusion. The twisting, spiraling design of the railing, which looks as though it’s part of the stairs themselves, was conceptualized by Oyler Wu after the lab’s owners asked them to come up with something that would reflect the lab’s spirit of creativity and innovation. Originally, the firm intended to design a 3D printed piece, but it wasn’t feasible.
“Our initial idea was to create something that showcased 3-D printing at an architectural scale, but the cost would have been too much,” said Jenny Wu, one of the firm’s partners. “If we couldn’t use 3-D printing at an architectural scale, what other digital fabrication techniques could we use? How could we push the idea of fabrication on the architectural side like the lab pushed the envelope for 3-D printing for food?”
The building that houses the lab was formerly a bank, dating back to 1928. Oyler Wu went with a mostly minimalist aesthetic, which makes the staircase stand out even more. At first glance, it looks impossible to walk on, but rest assured, it’s only visually, not literally, trippy, unless you have trouble with stairs in general. The ordinary staircase is hidden behind the twisting banister, which was created by interlocking straight and curved pieces of steel with CNC-milled sheets of wood.
“None of these building technologies is super new, but it’s how you incorporate them,” said Wu. “We’re using technology and traditional ways of fabrication hand in hand. With digital models and fabrication, you think you hit a button, cut it, and you’re done. It’s not that simple. Real-life construction has some tolerances you have to deal with. After it was installed, we also added more wood sheets to create a finer filigree.”
Wu’s design interests extend beyond architecture, and she has successfully turned her interest in 3D printing into a jewelry line. LACE incorporates many elements similar to those found in Oyler Wu’s architectural designs, but on a much smaller, wearable scale. Although 3D printing didn’t work out for the Culinary Lab staircase, it’s clear that Wu would like to try again. A look at Oyler Wu’s portfolio shows that they are very big on pushing the limits of design, and 3D printing could easily play a role in their avant-garde aesthetic.
“We’ve started to push more and more in how experimental work can be incorporated into a building and become the building,” Wu continued. “We’re always interested in work that is innovative but also long-lasting—it’s something you can look at many times and it always gives you something new.”