Wind of change

How can 3D printing influence the field of interior design?

What isn’t 3D printed these days? A technology also known as “additive manufacturing”, 3D printing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects of any shape from a digital model. It is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques due to its additive nature, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.

And although 3D printing is not a new form of technology, having been first discovered in 1984 by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corp, we have currently been seeing an extensive growth in popularity in the emerging printing technology.

But what does this mean for interior design? Kevin McLachlan, associate partner at GAJ, pointed out that there is more than one method of 3D printing but until recently these processes have been expensive to run, which meant restricting the technology to high-end prototyping in product design and medicine.

“It is only in the last few years that this method of construction has really begun to revolutionise the way we imagine manufacturing,” he said. McLachlan believes this momentum has been fueled due to its recent availability to the masses.

Oliver Kessler, principal at Oliver Kessler agreed, commenting that designing a product without the limitation of a moulding or abrasive will allow for anyone with the virtual 3D model to create a physical one.

The downside to this, he added, is that it will become even easier to replicate designs by scanning and printing, “the copy and paste method in 3D.”

Regardless of these potential copyright issues, McLachlan still sees the influence of 3D printing on the design industry as something revolutionary.

“As with the personal computer revolution, this form of manufacturing will inevitably change the way we live and this doesn’t just stop at physical products here on Earth, with firms ‘imagineering’ automated 3D building systems on far away planets,” he said, adding: “If you think this isn’t enough, we are now even seeing the development of this technology into the possibility of the creation of food.

Who knows what the refrigerator of the future will look like? This is a revolution in thinking that is going to change our world and the manufacturing landscape as we know it today.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Bruce Paget, interior design lecturer at Heriot Watt University in Dubai, isn’t completely convinced of 3D printing’s revolutionary traits and is doubtful of how much we have actually moved on from the fundamentals of manufacturing.

“3D printing is lauded in popular media as the next industrial era where the means of production shifts from [the experts] to everyone. The designs I’ve seen are different in form, which is great, but still produced by professionals for the design savvy so maybe it’s just another way of making something and not the radical open source shift predicted,” he put in.

Many deem 3D printing as limitless; however, Kessler comments that in terms of the variety of materials, the technology is still lagging behind.

Although short of diverse materials, McLachlan commented that the technology will also greatly and positively impact the delivery of products as “it opens up possibilities to manufacture with local materials to save on transport and to build closer to the end user.”

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And experts agree: 3D printing can truly affect the interior design industry while bringing in an array of opportunities, from projects to communication with clients.

“At GAJ, we are already using the process of transferring our ideas to 3D modeling and then to 3D printed forms with our supply partners in Europe. It is [still] early, but this really helps in the design development and communication of some of our ideas and components for
interiors such as lighting and areas like ironmongery,” explained McLachlan.

Paget added: “The result will be a new radical aesthetic shift in interior schemes. Out with the flat panels and in with fractal and ever changing geometries.

“We can model anything on computers but traditional on and off site manufacture is currently the weak link.

“One off curvy things are hard and expensive to make. Combine this with unsympathetic lighting and even the most accomplished contractor has difficulty achieving a CGI finish.”

Paget continued: “I think this will change and we will see a new visual vocabulary enter interiors: the real will have finally caught up with the imagined.”

Paul McElroy, partner at Kinnersley Kent Design brought forward an example of two architects, Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger who “recently produced a 3D printed interior of 15cm3 as part of a project, Digital Grotesque, with no reference to existing styles but as a pure experiment of what is achievable.

McElroy further explained: “Perhaps showing the future, if only on a slightly grander scale, could be of relevance to interior designers.”

Both Paget and Kessler see this technology booming in the commercial sector. “I believe it is a great method for manufacturing signature objects for hotels, spas and restaurants,” said Kessler, who believes the commercial market will witness an array of benefits from the new technology.

Paul McElroy, partner at Kinnersley Kent Design pointed out that “the Middle East has already seen quite a few companies leading the way”, however none have yet gone mainstream. Examples of such firms include Abu Dhabi-based Abaas Embodied Design as well as a newly operating 3D printing service, Ctrl P3D.

“This is a very exciting time,” remarked McLachlan, “full of ‘what ifs’ and endless possibilities that await those willing to experiment in using this medium.”

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