Singapore’s Changi Airport, celebrated for its world-class facilities that meld nature, entertainment, and retail experiences — including a butterfly garden, the tallest indoor waterfall, and a canopy park — has now unveiled a nod to sustainability in its recent architectural addition. In the prestigious lineup of luxury boutiques at Terminal 1 of Changi Airport, which includes DIOR and Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co. (NYSE: TIF) has taken a pioneering step forward. It unveiled a 3D printed store façade that seamlessly blends innovation with its iconic elegance and pledge to sustainability.
Inspired by the intricacy of coral formations, making visitors feel like they are “under the sea,” the façade is the result of 3D printing technology and recycled materials. Crafted using recycled fishing nets and reclaimed ocean plastics, the new building material shows the brand’s shift towards preserving the environment.
This project was born from an idea by Rotterdam-based architectural firm MVRDV. With over two decades of innovation under their belt, MVRDV has a reputation for developing visionary projects. Their approach, which blends technical investigation with creative exploration, was key in creating this unique façade. Its past projects, like the Dutch Public Broadcaster VPRO headquarters and WoZoCo housing for older adults in Amsterdam, have already set global benchmarks.
BUROMILAN brought MVRDV’s idea to life with their design expertise. With over 40 years of experience, this Italian engineering company has a vast portfolio, including civil, commercial, industrial, and public works. Their rich heritage in engineering provided the necessary foundation for translating MVRDV’s vision into a tangible structure.
However, it was Aectual, a pioneering company in the realm of 3D printing, that turned the design into reality. The façade was 3D printed using Ocean rPPGF. It’s a revolutionary construction material comprising a 75% thermoplastic base derived from recycled fishing nets bolstered with glass fibers. Aectual is one of several companies experimenting with this product developed originally by sustainable 3D printing material pioneer Reflow. In 2022, Italian 3D printing construction firm WASP partnered with Reflow to refine the printing of recycled fishing nets on a large scale.
Changi’s green jewel
This innovative material emerges as a robust and stable option, ideally suited for exterior applications spanning architecture and furniture design. The process of creating Ocean rPPGF involves mechanically recycling discarded fishing nets and ropes, primarily sourced from Northern Europe. Once retrieved, these materials undergo sorting, shredding, washing, and separation. Then, they are compounded with glass fiber. The glass fiber concentration in Reflow’s product has been meticulously chosen to fix warping challenges commonly associated with PP materials, mainly recycled versions.
This addition of glass fiber also boosts the material’s strength and resistance to impact. Moreover, the natural color of the final product—whether in granule or filament form—is a direct result of its sourced materials, with no external additives. A staggering 500,000 to one million tonnes of these ‘ghost nets’ are deserted into the oceans every year, leading to severe ecological results, mainly for marine life. By recycling them, Reflow is backing marine conservation and reducing the production of new, virgin plastic. These pressing environmental challenges emphasize the importance of companies like Aectual and its innovative solutions.
Aectual is not just a 3D printing company but a renowned brand for sustainability in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, with the building sector being responsible for approximately 30% of the world’s waste and 40% of newly mined materials. Aectual’s approach is a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Its mission centers on producing in a circular material loop. This means they use recycled waste streams and plant-based materials, ensuring zero waste. After their products have served their purpose, Aectual can repurpose, shred, and re-print them into new items. This radical recycling approach has the potential to reduce material use and carbon emissions over time significantly.
Central to Aectual’s process is its state-of-the-art XL 3D printing system. This technology employs large robot arms capable of extensive prints, combined with high-capacity extruders for rapid printing. Its method, known as Fused Granular Fabrication (FGF), is based on pellet extrusion, employing a robot arm for precision. Harnessing this technology, Tiffany & Co. is crafting more than just a luxury store – it’s about luxury with a purpose.
There’s a noticeable shift from the brand’s past. Although Tiffany & Co. has made significant strides in sustainability over recent years, this was not always the case. In the history of luxury, sustainability has only recently become an important focus, not only for Tiffany but also for many well-established brands.
Over the past few decades, Tiffany & Co. has actively promoted responsible business practices, including sustainable mining and ethical diamond sourcing. They have made significant contributions to these efforts within the luxury jewelry industry. The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, founded in 2000, has been vital, extending grants to environmental causes and initiatives like coral conservation and urban park advocacy.
The company’s ethical sourcing journey has been notable as well. They’ve fervently ensured their diamonds remain conflict-free, promoted transparency in the diamond supply chain, and meticulously traced their precious metal origins. While recent, the brand has shown an evolution toward sustainability.
As airports and commercial spaces worldwide grapple with the challenge of integrating sustainability into their designs, Tiffany & Co.’s store at Changi sets a beautiful precedent. Nestled within one of the world’s busiest transportation hubs, this fusion of avant-garde design, cutting-edge technology, and environmental commitment shows what 3D printing can do for next-gen sustainable architecture.
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