If you’ve ever been told you are as a dumb as a brick, you know (unless the accusation is true) that building materials aren’t renowned for their intelligence. However, while intelligence may be out of reach, it is true that they are increasingly becoming ‘smart‘, meaning they offer the capacity to interact with their users. That interaction goes beyond a simple on/off switching mechanism to include a connection to a network that allows for remote sharing and interaction. Today, there are a wide variety of things that we have come to rely upon for their smart enabled capabilities.
Beyond smartphones, the current gold standard in communications, there are smart home security systems and smart lighting systems that have introduced the idea of networked technology as an integral part of design and architecture. One company that has beenleading the way in this area is the German company BigRep, producers of the large-scale BigRep ONE 3D printer. Their innovation department, NOWLab, has been working on creating smart concrete with an adaptive surface enabled by embedded capacitive sensors. This translates to concrete with capabilities that are activated by the touch of a hand.
In the case of NOWLab’s efforts, this comes in the form of a wall panel with integrated lights that can be controlled by touching the surface of the concrete at any point. Concrete was one of the greatest innovations in the history of architecture; however, because of its ease of use, it has resulted in some of the least thoughtful building that has ever been undertaken. Its reputation has been tarnished by years of mindless application; a sort of dump and dash philosophy of building. The argument being made by the team at NOWLab is that through the utilization of advanced technologies such as 3D printing the forming of concrete can once again become a point of pride for the master builder, and the integration of sensorial capabilities can elevate the material beyond mere presence in a space to an active element in the formation of spatial experience.
The particular wall section they have created was designed using Arabic tiling logic put through a parametric design process, used to guide the tiles as they shift from closed on the bottom toward open on the top of the panel. Once the 3D model had been perfected, the concrete molds were then printed on the BigRep ONE, a machine capable of producing at an architectural scale. Within the openings, LED lights were placed, and a touch of the hand on the surface of the concrete is used to turn them on and off. The panel, reminiscent of Gaudi’s Sagrada Família, particularly the later portions, promise to show the way towards a reimagining of the possibilities for form once 3D printed molds are utilized.
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