3D printing of adaptive panel components at the architectural scale

Your Name
Gabriel Lipkowitz
Linked Student
Journal Entry For
Module 1 - Design Inspirations & Big Feature Ideas
ACC Folder Link
Jan 15, 2022 5:04 AM
Last Edited
Jan 24, 2022 2:28 AM


It will be the thesis of this design work that digital fabrication techniques such as 3D printing NEED BIM modeling.

Often times, a new fabrication method with e.g. a new material makes claims of greater sustainability, without performing rigorous analyses to back up such claims. Without these, though, the technologies cannot be interpreted as scalable. With BIM, however, complex calculations and estimations about the actual, scaled impact of such materials and geometries can be assessed, confidently. With programmatic design tools e.g. Dynamo, moreover, it is possible to simulate the many different materials and geometrical configurations 3D printed elements could take in a design.

Conversely, this design work will also argue that BIM models, as traditionally implemented, make, by necessity of the limitations imposed by traditional manufacturing techniques, many highly simplifying assumptions about the material composition and geometrical orientation of the building elements they’re modeling. BUT, that with additive manufacturing, and specifically its greater freedom in terms of these two building features, we can move beyond these assumptions to develop more nuanced BIM models that are, ultimately, superior in terms of energy performance and more sustainable.

Overall, therefore, the goal is to bring these two technologies together, 3D printing and BIM, as so:



As an example material that could be used to bring these two together, soft responsive skins using 3D printed bio-structural hydrogels have been investigated for adaptive architectural façade applications. The mechanism is shown below, expanding and stiffening at high temperatures and contracting at low temperatures.


The materiality of the structure may be tuned to the spatial position of the elements of the structure, as shown below.


With these cutaway views illustrating the variegated optical and thermal transparencies that may result from shape memory polymers in the façade, with variegated optical transparencies



Others have similarly investigated 3D-printed shape memory polymers as actuators for shading devices in adaptive skins. For instance, the Metaplas project by UCL for roof of Euston Station in London. To assist in the adaptability of such structures, some have proposed using microfluidic channels and high surface area structures to enhance or decrease actuation effects in a smart design. Such geometrical versatility is only possible with 3D printing.

Crucially, this design work will traverse multiple scales. The feasibility and stability of assembling together quite small prefabricated polymer components has been demonstrated by MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, which indeed they show in another paper can be efficiently put together by pre-programmed robots. These were injection-molded, but there is no reason why they cannot be printed. Moreover, the scale of the unit voxels used by the CBA was roughly the size of parts produceable by a standard SLA printer; even so, they mention no reason why the voxels cannot still be scaled down, within a certain limit of course.