So far, the rapid prototyping machines have been pretty much the plaything of architecture students and mobile phone designers, churning out clear plastic maquettes of unbuildable shapes for the entertainment and delight of designers and to the dismay of tutors, clients and cost consultants alike.
However, Enrico Dini has a machine in a shed in Pisa that could change everything. Rather than the flimsy micrometer thin plastic concoctions limited to shoebox sized components, Dini has reimagined the machine to produce large scale building blocks in what is essentially reconstituted stone.
The Architectural Association in London has shown the first solid commercial interest in the machine which will presumably be used to build on their exceptional programme of summer pavilion building in Bedford Square which has been investigating digital construction processes for the past 3 or 4 years through real built interventions.
Dinis ambition for the machine seems to be in the structural possibilities it creates. Structural systems 'printed' in layers can create robust and self supporting forms that could never stand up if relying on a sequence of individual components that have a series of vulnerable stressed junctions between them. However, I am equally interested in the step change this suggests toward the more mundane part of the building industry, as well as implications for sustainability.
If individual components which are robust enough to be used in building can be printed at the point of use, this can allow for building modelling and construction to come much closer together, improving workmanship and tolerances, meaning that the designer can place himself at the centre of the construction process in a way not feasible since Antoni Gaudi stepped back to admire his cathedral from a day spent working directly with stonemasons. This doesn't necessarily mean the designer has to be interested in wobbly shapes, in the same way that not ALL sustainable buildings have to look like this (believe it or not Mr. Dunster...). Also, on demand components means no more shipping from specialist manufacturers in other countries (or even continents).
A brave new world awaits, and I'll be expecting great things of the next couple of AA summer pavilions.