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Nature and Technology Come Together in Giant 3D Printed Bird’s Nest

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[Image: Dr. J. Patrick David]

When asked to picture a bird’s nest, most people will immediately go to the same image: a small, round structure, created from twigs, grass and other scavenged bits, with an indentation in the middle for birds and eggs to rest. Not all nests look the same, however, and weavers’ nests are quite different than most birds’. Weavers are a family of birds with the scientific name Ploceidae, and their nests are amazing, complex enclosures that hang like fruit from trees.

Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to find a weaver’s nest in the wild, but if you’d like to see a magnified version, you can visit the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. No bird created the giant gourdlike structure currently on display at the garden – it’s a product of human and machine, working with natural material to replicate one of the wonders of nature.

[Image: Hulda Nelson]

“Plant Fiber Enclosure: Origins” is the culmination of a product of a yearlong seminar taken by graduate architecture students at the University of California, Berkeley. The course focused on the integration of traditional and digital fiber fabrication methods, and was led by associate professor of architecture Maria Paz Gutierrez. Her work involves the development of new, sustainable building technologies that are integrated with traditional fabrication techniques, and her current research is centered on manufacturing, construction and agricultural waste in remote areas such as the western Amazon.

Her research led her to study weaver birds, whose nests she and her students 3D scanned to examine patterns of looping and netting construction design principles. They then created a model with algorithms to reproduce the natural weaver patterns, and reengineered a 3D printer to print with hemp and wood waste instead of plastic. They also installed robotic arms programmed to thread the hemp fibers the way a bird would.

The machine 3D printed and wove 400 separate small pieces that look somewhat like dream catchers. The pieces were then assembled into one giant structure over a two-day period by the students. The final product weighs about 20 pounds and has been installed for the past week at the Botanical Garden.

According to Gutierrez, the installation is much more than just a huge reproduction of a bird’s nest. It also facilitates education about the process of construction, the material, and the social dynamics of nest building, and it’s a look at how we can adapt both traditional and digital construction methods to the modern world with its changing climate, disappearing resources, and emerging technology.

“It’s opening new paths for research in this area,” she said.

[Image: Taewook Kang]

Gutierrez, originally from Chile, is the founder of an interdisciplinary research initiative called Bio Input Onto Material Systems, or BIOMS, which brings together architecture and sciences such as bioengineering. She’s not necessarily suggesting that we should all live in giant birds’ nests someday, but “Plant Fiber Enclosure: Origins” is a look at nature’s construction methods and the remarkable strength and stability that can be created using natural materials and fabrication techniques that are as ancient as nature itself – aided by brand new digital technologies such as 3D printing.

“The installation presented in the exhibit consists of a fully natural fiber 3D printed and 3D woven structure inspired by the process of construction of a weaver bird nest. As such, the installation probes into the material efficiency of a pendant structure as an intertwined physical, sociocultural, and aesthetic exploration. This full-scale prototype composed of 400 woven panels has been created through an iterative process focused on exploring scalability opportunities through an integrative fabrication technique encompassing additive manufacturing with natural material waste and natural fibers for digital weaving,” the Botanical Garden site describes.

“Plant Fiber Enclosure: Origins” was on display at the Botanical Garden through May 25, after which the conference center in which it is installed will need to be cleared for summer programming. Future locations for the installation are being discussed. Share your thoughts on this work in the 3D Printed Bird’s Nest forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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