In 2016, Branch Technology issued a challenge to the design world: imagine the possibilities for architecture when a home could be fabricated using 3D printing. This Freeform Home Design Challenge asked only that the home be 1,000 square feet, designed for a single family, and use Branch Technology’s patent pending Cellular Fabrication (C-FAB) technology. The call was answered by 1,300 registrants representing 97 countries, and their submissions were judged by a distinguished panel consisting of Robert Otani of Thornton Thomasetti CORE, Philip Enquist of SOM, Jessica Rosenkrantz of Nervous System, Sanam Salek of BIG, and Keith Kaseman of KBAS Studio. As Platt Boyd, Founder and CEO of Branch Technology, explained:
“One of the things that we wanted to illustrate is showing how design can be affected by 3D printing. And to illustrate that we sponsored a design competition to say, okay, let’s push the envelope of what’s possible in construction and design.”
The winner of the $10,000 prize was WATG Urban with their entry entitled Curve Appeal, a project drawing on the history of reimagining the home such as undertaken during the Case Study House program of 1945 – 1966. With this project they have, in one fell swoop, both indicated the direction in which architectural theory is turning and aligned themselves with the pantheon of great architects who have taken a break from creating the next tallest, flashiest tower and quietly revolutionized the way we think about homes.
WATG is a highly successful, internationally recognized design and architecture firm that could have easily ignored the challenge issued by Branch Technology. With clients such as Bangalore’s Ritz Carlton, the Hawaii Convention Center, the South African Palace of the Lost City, and scores of other projects that would outdo even the most fevered dreams of today’s architecture students, a relatively small purse for the design of a humble home need not have been undertaken. However, what WATG saw was not a simple home, but an opportunity to imagine at a transformative moment.
The C-FAB system isn’t just an alternative way to build the same walls, but rather uses the nature of 3D printing and the ideas of cellular construction to allow designers to reconceptualize the walls that need to be created. The way in which we can create clearly has an impact on what it is that we choose to create. What C-FAB technology allows is for walls to be built a cell at a time, meaning that they can follow the forms of the architect’s imagination rather than the rectilinearity of the building materials. In addition, this new method of fabricating walls means that unusual and freeform shapes now fall within the realm of economic possibility for a far greater number of people.
This new freedom is clear in the winning design, the interior renderings for which look as though they were captured through an extreme fisheye lens. The site is on the bank of the Tennessee River, with a groundbreaking planned later in 2018, and the home itself looks almost like a smooth river rock that has settled into the shore. Capitalizing on the strength of the arch, the small home is able to contain a sweeping, open plan with panoramic vistas through swathes of glazing. The connection to nature is not only apparent in its form, but also in its passive mechanical systems that actually allow the home to be net zero-energy.
Fabricating something as new as this is more than just seeing the designs on paper (or in our day on computer screen). Instead, extensive testing is needed, such as that which is currently being undertaken in conjunction with United States Gypsum to determine the materials needed to work as fire protection, structural reinforcement, and for the creation of the substrate that will hold the homes surface materials. WATG is also working with Thornton Tomasetti, 3D printing test beams and partial wall sections in order to study load bearing capabilities. But there is more to be worked out here than simple mechanics, as architecture professor and critic Matthew Dudzik noted:
“While the production of 3D printed housing has the potential to create dynamic and even, theoretically, affordable housing, it will become most beneficial when it addresses the complex needs of the city. How can architecture rethink the relationship between structure and the landscape in a way that reduces the environmental impact on our planet? While certainly the transparency of this structure calls upon the great case study houses of the twentieth century and offers the occupants an intimate connection with the landscape, the realities of land use have now transcended the picturesque ideals of those of the case study house and now must address architecture not only as a formal exercise but rather as an entity which solves societal problems. Furthermore given the advanced capabilities of 3D printing, the medium has the potential to create not just that which is different, but also architecture embedded with cultural coding. Given the frightening effect of the global homogenization of architecture 3D printing has the opportunity to produce culturally relevant design which also solves issues for the city and for our planet.”
While modern architecture is most often associated with Modern architects and can be brutal, cold, and unforgiving, and while the renderings do present a stark and uninhabited space, it’s possible to see in the form, the warmth of Gaudí. The key with projects like this is to not let the technology get in the way of the humanity. While speaking of democratization, it’s important to also recognize that this home is designed by and for the elite. This is the equivalent of a runway model, fantastical, exorbitant, and altogether unsuitable for everyday attire. To imagine it otherwise would be a disservice to the intentions of the designers and would deny its importance, relegating it to the world of mere performance rather than acknowledging it as a fundamental proposal for rethinking the way in which the technology can liberate the home.
What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.[Images: WATG]