CORPUS Magazine
CORPUS Magazine

Challenging: Substainable architecture in 3D

3D printing in architecture offers many possibilities - but the technology is still in development. CORPUS talks to Hans Vermeulen, CEO of Aectual and DUS Architects about future prospects and the company's involvement in construction processes.

On the occasion of the six-month Dutch EU Council Presidency, the architects of DUS have provided a mobile building with a facade of large, 3D-printed elements. Niches with integrated benches create small social spaces for the delegates, but also for passers-by.

A promising technology is writing architectural history: 3D printing for construction and design is not only on everyone's lips, but has reached a whole new level. While only a few years ago only small, experimental projects were developed with the 3D printing process, since then the technology has once again been decisively specialised. The architects and designers of Aectual and DUS Architects also make tailor-made architecture possible - and work with XL 3D printers. At DUS Architects, the focus is on further development and "Design by Doing". With the "3D Print Canal House" research project, they are testing the technology for building houses - not behind concealed facades, but visible to all eyes in the middle of Amsterdam's Old Town. The goal is ambitious: to revolutionize building construction and to initiate new construction solutions that can be used worldwide. Symbolically the canal house has an important meaning for Amsterdam, already 400 years ago these houses were built directly at the lifelines of the city - at the canals, at which one lived and worked. Besides the brick facades, the rich decorations with stucco and ornaments are characteristic. These decorative elements are no problem for the XL Printer: Small jobs in particular can be produced in detail using the 3D printing process.

The Urban Cabin in Amsterdam also comes from the 3D printer. Together with an outdoor bathtub and mini-garden, it transforms an industrial wasteland into a piece of individual space for free use.

But the idea goes further, because the project wants to show how traditional, local values and innovative ideas for the future can go hand in hand. Each individual element of the building represents a new stage of technical development and is intended to show that architecture can be a catalyst for overarching innovations. No wonder that the DUS team consists not only of architects, but also of designers, programmers, 3D printing experts and inventors. The focus is on constant dialogue and openness to inspiration - society is at the centre of process and results. It was only logical that the canal-house construction site was not only open to the public for a long time, but that the feedback of the tour visitors was even included in the development.

Various creative exchange workshops were part of the programme at this year's FrameLab - where CORPUS met Hans Vermeulen.

Vermeulen's second company, Aectual, is currently continuing DUS's technical and digital research with the mission of mass-producing tailor-made architecture. To do: With huge 3D printing robots, combined with sophisticated software, the construction and technology company wants to produce construction products that fit exactly - from the house facade to the staircase. The first published product range supplies a 3D printing system for floor coverings and was first used at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport at the end of 2017. Sustainability plays just as important a role here as the almost absolute freedom of design: colour, pattern and texture can be individually designed with the help of technology, using recycled materials and biologically based products. This also reflects the original idea of DUS: With the precise 3D printing process, material can be used exactly where it is needed - without producing surpluses that either remain without function on the object or have to be removed and disposed of. While direct production on the construction site saves a lot of transport and production time, the next step is to optimize the production process of the materials - because the costs for the 3D printing materials are still significantly higher than those of conventional products.

Architect and entrepreneur Hans Vermeulen (bottom left) and his team are currently working on a complete redesign of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. In addition to many other ideas, the new technology is of course also used: the floors of the gates and terminals are printed completely.

What we as architects see is that architecture is actually too slow: as a profession and as an industry. Because when something is finished, it is already outdated.


Hans Vermeulen

CORPUS spoke to Hans Vermeulen, one of the founders of DUS Architects and CEO of Aectual, about the possibilities and the future of 3D printing.

CORPUS: 3D printing is a very social idea of doing architecture – is this a solution suitable to solve urbanization problems?

HANS VERMEULEN: That’s true. It started with our background as designers and building with people and introducing communities into the building process – and we thought: How can we make it bigger? How can we design for the global community and not only for the local community? We want to use social networks and the opportunities of digitalization. We are developing to connect with communities all around the globe and to let them be part of making cities.

CORPUS: Since you are in a development process, acting more like a software developer than an architect in a way – are there any obstacles you are facing?

HANS VERMEULEN: One of the approaches we embrace is that we don’t want to solve all the problems at once. We want to see how we can use the current state of the technology to products which can already be put on the market. On that we want to get feedback from users and iterate the product, make it better, and at the same time make the technology better. So it is really an incremental way of pushing new technology in the building industry. But with the vision of disrupting everything that’s happening at the moment. We have to be way smarter in how we organize our planet.

Back to the mobile EU building: The European blue benches are made of bio-plastic. All in all, the curved shape of the façade is inspired by the sailing ships that were once built in this part of Amsterdam. All printed elements can be easily dismantled, shredded and reused for the next print after the Council Presidency.

CORPUS: 3D printed houses are comparatively quick to set up – in the same way you can dismantle them and reuse facades for example. Do you think this will become more common in the future?

HANS VERMEULEN: Well, it can be one solution. I find it quite interesting that thinking in a shorter lifespan of architecture actually creates new ways of designing and thinking about how we use resources or what resources we use. What we as architects see is that architecture is actually too slow: as a profession and as an industry. Because when something is finished, it is already outdated. It is all about the challenge of creating spaces and cities which are way more agile and can adapt way faster to the changing needs of the people living there. So it is back to what the communites want.

CORPUS: What is the idea behind the 3D Canal House?

HANS VERMEULEN: We launched the canal house as a pilot project to make our mark on the horizon of 3D house printing. Then, instead of finishing it before showing it to the world, we flipped that idea: We opended the building site, put our printer there and invited the world to come and see. We gathered knowledge from all kinds of industries, companies and people to take the next steps in the development of 3D printing.

CORPUS: What’s your vision – what will the future of 3D printing look like?

HANS VERMEULEN: I am fascinated with how at the moment we can see that the scalability of software is connected to the actual making of goods and architecture itself. For a lot of companies it is super interesting to see how their processes are connected to the changes that will occur in the next five to ten years. Our vision is that through digitalization we can bring design solutions to a bigger global community – and to counter the challenge of housing 7+ billion people in a positive way.

The Japanese department store chain Loft has completely redesigned its flagship store in Tokyo's Ginza district. At the architect's request, DUS supplied exclusively manufactured, 3D-printed furniture for both the visitors and the presentation of the goods. One focus was on special patterns and textures.

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