Published: August, 2018

Goodbye trowel and error, hello 3D printing

Back in 2014, the Strand Gallery in London hosted an exhibition that shone a light on the future of landscape architecture. Called miNiATURE, it featured 10 leading landscape designers from around the world who'd created life-like miniature gardens using 3D printing.

The aim of miNiATURE was to capitalise on rapid technological advances and give garden designers the opportunity to experiment and explore innovative designs. Foster + Partners had been doing it for years – it used its first 3DP for the Gherkin in 1999. It was time for landscapers to catch up. By employing 3D printing (3DP), they could escape the tiresome traditional limitations of slowly-created old-style drawings and models, restricted budgets and planting seasons and instead quickly produce high quality, far more detailed models that gave an accurate impression of what the design would look like in real life.

Landscape professionals were wowed by the show, hailing 3DP as a really important design tool. But four years on, 3DP has still to put down firm roots. 3D printers aren’t cheap, nor are they easy to operate, and compatibility with a practice’s software programmes can also be an issue.

Nevertheless, there’s still much optimism in the air and 3DP is finally starting to become more widely adopted. The UK’s largest 3D printed master plan model was recently unveiled at Barking Riverside, one of Europe’s largest brownfield developments, which will deliver over 10,800 new homes in East London.

Created by 3D technology specialists, Hobs Studio, the model measures 3.60m x 2.6m x 1m, and incorporates over 1,000 buildings, at a scale of 1:750. Produced over a 4-and-a-half-week period, and assembled on site in two days, the model has been printed on the largest SLA 3D printer in the UK - an iPro 9000 XL, which has a build size of 1500 mm x 750 mm x 550mm.

Other developments have progressed beyond 3DP models and we’re now seeing a 12m long steel pedestrian bridge devised by technology startup MX3D which is set to span a canal in Amsterdam later this year. Arup and Imperial College London are currently testing its structural integrity.


Also, in the Netherlands, Eindhoven University of Technology is to build five 3DP concrete houses locally for completion next year.

And in Zurich students at ETH University have pioneered a method of casting complex, one-off architectural structures from metal in a 3D-printed mould. Deep Facade, a six-metre-high aluminum structure with ribbons of metal looped in an organic fashion that recalls the folds of the brain's cerebral cortex, is the first metal facade cast in a 3D-printed mould.

So, what does all this mean for landscape architects? If it becomes mainstream, 3DP could offer a quicker, more cost-effective way to manufacture complex forms for gardens and landscapes. It may unlock a whole range of shapes for metal structures in architecture that traditional mould-making systems can’t achieve. And it opens up the possibility for even more creative expression in the garden, as well as the prospect of landscape architects printing their own curved garden walls, dividers, edgers, planters and decking.

Even more excitingly, clients will be able to see and understand exactly what their designer is proposing – it gives them something tactile and sculptural they can consider properly and show to others too. Spatial relationships, movement and flow within the garden, and how the various elevations and sections work together can all be grasped quickly, and then referred to throughout the project. Essentially, it should allow landscape architects to communicate their ideas to clients in a new and much more compelling way. What’s not to like!


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