The Jamming Phenomenon: 3D Printing with String & Rocks May Change the Face of Architecture

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bestlogoJust pull the string and the whole thing comes down. While that’s some highly engineered string, the concept may simplify the world of architecture and construction in terms of materials and structure forever. Using reversible concrete, the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT and Gramazio Kohler Research of ETH Zurich are shaking up the traditional idea of what we use this particular and very common material for—and how.

Concrete brings to mind strength, durability, and construction that is meant to last. With reversible concrete, you still have all those qualities, but it’s up to you as to how long you want things to last. With 3D printing showing nearly all of its benefits in full force, the team completed an architectural installation at the Chicago Architecture Biennial in the form of Rock Print—a towering vertical shape, and one that is strangely stunning.

Reversible-concrete-3As soon as the term 3D printing enters the picture, you most likely assume the material mass (here, concrete rocks) is what was somehow being extruded, but this is where you have to turn your thinking around, grasping the new world of opportunities being offered by the new process the team is demonstrating. The extruder is responsible for producing only the string, placed according to strategic algorithms. within supplied volumes of rocks. And the string is ultimately the controlling mechanism within the structure as well, which in this particular case was a column, 13 feet tall.

“We are using a similar technique to powder-based printing,” Skylar Tibbits originally explained to The Creators Project. “There is a container, material is deposited layer by layer and a binder, (in this case the string) is applied to each layer in the specific pattern of the slice.”

The architectural team was inspired several years ago by Chicago University Professor Dr. Heinrich Jaeger. He hosted a conference which was attended by a number of architects, physicists, and those engaged in the study of materials sciences and presented his idea for ‘the jamming phenomenon,’ wondering how they might all make it work—with the idea of simply, yes, shoving a bunch of materials together into one place. This is where team members from both MIT and ETH Zurich began work on the eventual column, which would certainly seem to be a perfect response to Jaeger’s query.

“This is the beginning of the research and a step towards an alternative to concrete,” said Installation project lead Andreas Thoma of Gramazio Kohler Research.

Undeniably, it’s a different way of using concrete (or other materials), that may lead to so far untold levels of customization and portability, considering that you can wind the string up and pull the plug on the whole piece, left with some sweeping in the end—and eventually, no trace of the structure whatsoever.

“When structures are aggregated from crushed gneiss, we get load bearing structures that can withstand enormous forces,” says Thoma. “The ability to digitally fabricate, disassemble, and reassemble structures with no material losses changes the paradigm of architecture as well as the view of permanent / temporary architecture.”

As we’ve waited to see what would truly pan out for 3D printing, infrastructure concerns, construction, and far more, this is a very exciting concept that allows for so much choice, and employs some of the 4D printing concept as well in going further to offer materials and structures that can be intuitive and morph into required shapes as necessary. Many concepts (big emphasis on concepts) have been introduced on these fronts, and we’ve followed stories regarding the changing the world of road construction with rolling out everything from 3D printed asphalt to mobile printers fixing potholes, to aerial 3D printing drones that will work as mini-factories from the air, constructing buildings and even emergency shelters.

structureThis could translate to offering fluid customization in terms of populations, occupancy requirements, and basic changing times. Just imagine a world where when the needs change for a structure, it’s not left standing abandoned and in disrepair for years, or torn down, or ‘imploded.’ This new concept allows for the idea of sustainability in many areas of the world, speed in both the putting together and the taking down, and undoubtedly, much greater affordability. We look forward to following this team in their future architectural endeavors with 3D printing. Discuss in the 3D Printing & Reverse Concrete forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Green Building Elements / All images © Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich, and Self-Assembly Lab, MIT, 2015]

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