Concrete is always something I’ve thought of as functional, solid, and utilitarian, but never beautiful or artistic. You pour concrete, it hardens, and you have a good, sturdy wall or sidewalk that serves its purpose, but doesn’t possess any kind of character or uniqueness unless a few kids get there before it dries to leave their handprints, or press leaves into it, or carve their names and/or love notes and/or obscenities into it. Concrete is boring…or at least it was, before people starting 3D printing with it. 3D printing has made concrete interesting, and even beautiful.
Because 3D printing is free of the design limitations of other construction methods, it’s becoming more widely used to build concrete structures that are not only functional but artistic and personal. Look at the 3D printed bridge recently unveiled in Madrid, for example: it’s a perfectly solid, sturdy bridge as capable of supporting the weight of daily pedestrian traffic as other bridges are, but it’s also a work of art with its delicate branchlike designs. Other examples of 3D printed concrete creativity include a fluid-looking bench and a unique pavilion.
Bekkering Adams Architechten is based in the Netherlands, which is full of architectural firms stretching the boundaries of construction with 3D printing. Founded by Juliette Bekkering and Monica Adams, the firm is especially dedicated to the improvement of urban landscapes with sustainable, cutting-edge design and construction. One of their most recent works, the 3D printed Firewall, is a striking example of the unprecedented capabilities 3D printing offers for designers working with concrete.
Firewall was created as a collaborative project between Bekkering Adams, the Technical University of Eindhoven and Cement & Beton Centrum. The concept was selected as a winner at the Tectonics Design Challenge 3DCP for further development by the three institutions, which fleshed it out into an intricate, filigreed wall that defies assumptions about concrete construction. A specialized 3D printing technique allowed the team to vary the layer height and speed at which the concrete material was deposited, creating a sculptural, freeform appearance.
“We tested out different nozzles to define the final layers of the prototype, reducing the size and flattening the layers to increase the contact surface between them,” Bekkering explained in a recent interview with Frame Magazine. “We intervened with the material in order to find the right balance between the hardening time – to keep its shape – and the fluidity needed to guarantee the freedom of the form.”
In addition, small glass spheres were embedded into the concrete, giving it a luminous, almost translucent look when light shines through it. In the future, the team plans to integrate a small fireplace directly into the wall, making it a true “Fire Wall” that throws off patterns of light and shadow as the flames flicker.
The design team consists of Bekkering, Adams, Frank de Vleeschhouwer, Virginia Melandri, and Frank Schulze, while the 3D printing itself was carried out by Zeeshan Ahmed and Rob Wolfs of the Technical University of Eindhoven. Firewall is currently being displayed at the BouwBeurs construction trade fair, which is being held from February 6-10 in Utrecht. Discuss in the 3D Printed Firewall forum at 3DPB.com.
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