Whopping Architecture Model Made Possible with Batch 3D Printing

Jen Botezat
Oct 5, 2017 · 5 min read
Huge architecture model 3D printed by Champion 3D and assembled piece by piece at University College London School.

We recently had the privilege of working on an amazingly intricate 3D-printed architecture model with a group of talented students at University College London Bartlett School of Architecture. The project challenged us to manufacture more than 1,000 individual pieces in less than a month using FDM 3D printing. The impressively assembled model is nothing short of a modern work of art, which you can see, along with many others, now through October 7th, at the Bartlett School of Architecture B-Pro Show in London.

Close up from the ground.

The stunning model, named WonderYards, is an abstract representation of Medini, Malaysia at 1:250 scale. It consists of 4 unique repeating parts, which are cut-outs from classical modernist building. Team members Chen Chen, Li Genmao, and Zixuan Wang modelled the parts and fed them into an algorithm, which positioned them as sparsely or as densely as needed, with touching surfaces.

Project manager and UCL student Chen Chen shows the algorithm used to generate the final shape. Josef Dunne of Champion 3D visits showcase to see how the 3D prints were assembled.

Champion 3D was proud to work with this team to print all the tiny pieces required to make the final model. The pieces were then painstakingly assembled by hand over two weeks by the team. Standing almost two meters tall, WonderYards is easily one of the most striking and intricate models at the showcase.

Model people (and one penguin) inhabit this intricate structure.

One unique challenge of this model was making the pieces as lightweight as possible due to its slight bend to one side. The team had previously tried printing the parts with SLS, but they turned out very heavy and risked collapsing the model.

We advised the team that FDM would provide the best solution because we could produce the light and strong parts they needed, quickly. To accomplish this feat, we used a layer height of 200 microns, a single shell structure, and printed the parts completely hollow (zero infill) with no support material.

Each individual 3D printed piece is a cutout of a well-known modernist building.

This really cut down on the weight of each piece and the final model. It took 8 kg of pure white PLA (polylactic acid) to print all the pieces.

The parts fresh off the print bed.

By tuning the print settings, we were able to speed up the print time and deliver the pieces to the team by their deadline, in less than a month. The custom settings we used also enabled us to reduce material costs so that the project would fit within the team’s limited budget.

Surface quality? Pretty good.

WonderYards stands on a custom-built grey wooden plinth, made in the same style as the model. A single laser-cut acrylic column runs along the side to provide support and hold the model upright.

It was our first mass production project, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the final result. When you work in a studio and print very different parts for hundreds of customers, it’s hard to imagine how a model made of so many small parts will come out.

The 3D factory at work.

When the group first came to us and explained their idea, we were optimistic about the project, but couldn’t quite picture how all the pieces would come together in reality. There was a lot of excitement and mystery behind how the project would turn out. In fact, it came together perfectly.

WonderYards really shows that desktop 3D printing can be used to make amazing final shapes. It overcomes the traditional skepticism towards 3D printing in design, where students are often encouraged to use more traditional model-making techniques such as casting and cardboard cuttings. But more and more students are turning to 3D printing as their tool of choice for custom and intricate models. WonderYards convinced not only students, but also professors that 3D printing is a valid fabrication tool, and it was exciting for us to be a part of that shift in mindset.

This project was definitely an experiment not only in 3D printing, but also in architecture. The clean sharp lines and brilliant white colour of WonderYards are partly inspired by the London Zoo Penguin Pool, an icon of British modernist architecture, that still stands today.

In fact, there is one penguin lurking among all the tiny people (also 3D-printed!) on the model. See if you can spot him. We dare you!

He’s not here.

Fundamentally, WonderYards originates from the study of mereology, the relationship of parts to each other and their whole. Mereology was pioneered by Ludwig Hilberseimer in the 19th century and laid the foundation for “The Mereological City”.

Abstract concept of mereology explored at UCL Bartlett School of Architecture.

You can learn more about this mind-bending field and see how 3D printing is used in architecture today by visiting the B-Pro show here.

Is it art or is it architecture? That is the question.

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