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There is something truly magical about art and architecture installations in urban settings that complement, comment on, or even disrupt usual fast-paced or even hyper kinetic city life. These installations command us to stop for a moment and view something new in a backdrop we may be all too accustomed to. This is what the RIBA Shanghai Windows Project is all about; taking routine backdrops, such as the front of a well-known major building, or a store front at a mall, and transforming it with art or architectural installations to enhance the visual appeal of routine urban spaces.

London-based PrintME 3D is a multi-service clearinghouse for all things 3D printing related, including: printing services and sales of printers, scanners, filaments and other essentials for home, education, and business sectors.  It has recently had the opportunity to collaborate with London based architecture firm, Urban Systems, on an installation for the RIBA Shanghai Windows Project. This installation, called ‘Urban Nature’,  is on display in the Xintiandi district of Shanghai, and following the theme of the Shanghai Windows Project, it was designed to highlight how our urban environments have a dynamic and fluid nature.

One popular interpretation of the contemporary city is that although constituted as a built environment, it really has an “ecology” of its own as it is shaped by the flows of human culture andusollp_ph7_5 interaction. This is also the idea behind the RIBA Shanghai Windows Project; Xintiandi is Shanghai’s premier fashion, art, and shopping district, and so it’s a perfect target for a installation project such as this one.

Urban Systems followed this view of the city as shaped by flows of human culture, and it created a structure at the entrance of a Xintiandi Style mall storefront that reflects the design philosophy of the retail store PH7. According to PrintME 3D’s Tribe Life blog description of the project, “Urban Systems started with PH7’s design ethos which is inspired by the forces of nature. Urban Systems designed a structure that is sculpted by the circulation and views around the entrance of the store at its particular location at the Xintiandi Style mall.”

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Once the design was completed digitally, the installation was 3D printed by PrintME 3D on Bq Witbox 3D Printers using low-cost bio-degradable plastic made from renewable resources, with the two colors achieved using two different materials. One material was a clear thermoplastic and the other had natural bamboo fibres mixed in. The installation uses a small number of families of different components to create the internal variation in the textured imagery. This limitation on the variety of printed components reduced the number of customized pieces and simplified the assembly process too. It also keeps the focus, in my view, less on all of the dramatic differences between the individual pieces and more on how each piece contributes to the larger whole. Kind of like residents of a city.

The end result is both subtle and transformative.  I can imagine from a distance if you do not expect to see the installation, it can be rather surprising as well. It looks like a swarm of something has taken over the storefront, and it has. It’s a swarm of plastic 3D printed components that alone are nothing special, but when placed together, they create a moving and fluid sculpture intended to reflect energetic relations between humans and their environments in an urban context.

Let’s hear your thoughts on this installation in the 3D Printed Shanghai Windows Project forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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