Imagine being in a building in which soft light comes in on all sides. It’s fully protected from the elements, private, and enclosed, but translucent. That’s the concept that researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed. Using a 3D printer, they have created a sample of a building façade that is both translucent and multi-functional. It’s one of the first functionally integrated building façade elements to be produced using 3D printing.
The project was led by Moritz Mungenast, research fellow at the Associate Professorship of Architectural Design and Building Envelope at TUM. A sample piece of façade was 3D printed from translucent plastic, 60 cm wide and one meter high. It’s pretty to look at, but it also serves numerous functional purposes. First of all, it’s sturdy and stable enough to protect a building. Cells inside the piece help to provide that stability while also creating air-filled cavities for insulation. The material was 3D printed in waves to create shadows, and thin embedded tubes allow air to circulate from one end of the piece to the other, providing optimum ventilation. The micro-structured surface allows for ideal acoustics, and the whole thing can be scaled and adapted to meet individual needs without additional cost.
“3D printing opens up design possibilities that were unthinkable in the past,” said Mungenast. “We can take advantage of this freedom to integrate functions such as ventilation, shading and air conditioning. This eliminates the previous need for expensive sensors, control programs and motors.”
The design concept is called Fluid Morphology, and it really does look fluid. The surface of the structure isn’t uniform at all; it ripples and bulges, gets thicker and thinner, with no apparent pattern. However, according to Mungenast, the design of the wave structure is very deliberate.
“Design and function are closely interdependent,” he said. “For example we can arrange the waves so that they protect the facade from heat in the summer and let in as much light as possible in the winter.”
The façade design has to go through some thorough testing before it actually appears on any buildings, though. Over the course of a year, a complete 1.6 x 2.8 meter façade element will be tested at TUM’s solar station, a testing installation on the main TUM campus. During that time, sensors will collect data that tells the researchers how much light penetrates the 3D printed façade, and where; how resistant they are to UV radiation and weather; and how efficiently they insulate. The researchers and architects will use this data to improve the design before creating prototypes in polycarbonate, a material certified for use in façades.
“Special solutions are called for here in particular, and it doesn’t matter at all that the plastic facades from the 3D printer aren’t completely transparent like glass panes, but rather translucent,” he said. “The penetrating light creates an entirely unique and thoroughly attractive atmosphere.”
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