3D concrete printing promises new artistic freedom for architects

A revolutionary technique being developed by scientists at Loughborough University could free architects from the restraints of current construction methods.

Architects are creating stunning buildings with intricate geometric forms, but many never progress beyond the designer’s screen because their complexity makes them too costly to construct.

A team, led by Dr Richard Buswell and Professor Simon Austin from the University’s School of Civil and Building Engineering, has made dramatic progress with additive manufacturing technologies, where models created on-screen can be formed into three-dimensional components at full scale.

Conventionally, concrete is poured into temporary formwork – an efficient method of moulding if the shapes are straight, simple and the variations minimised.  Introduce curves and complexity, and the expense rapidly increases.

In the Freeform Construction project, a special type of concrete is deposited very precisely under computer control, layer by layer, from a 3D computer-aided-design (CAD) model.  Using this technology, very complex sections of buildings can be created without the high cost penalties associated with traditional methods.

Speaking about the project Dr Richard Buswell said: “Using Freeform every section of a building could be unique if necessary – produced by calling up a new design on-screen and setting the process to work.  Components could be created with ready-made internal voids and ducts for services, and with shapes that made the most of their insulating properties.  Because each piece would be tailor-made, there would be virtually no waste.  The possibilities are endless; it is a very exciting project.”

This pioneering work has been made possible by funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with significant input from industry.

The research team has now obtained technology-transfer funding from the EPSRC to commercialise the process, collaborating with Foster + Partners, Buro Happold and Hyundai Engineering & Construction.  Their expertise and advice is essential to the team’s understanding of the needs of industry, the potential of their ideas and the creation of an innovation path.

The Freeform work has generated interest worldwide and already led to exhibitions in Barcelona, New York and London.

Colin McKinnon, Innovation Director at Buro Happold, said: “Through our involvement in the project we will help the research team assess the design, manufacturing and commercial potential of this innovative technology.”

Xavier De Kestelier, Associate Partner, at architects Foster + Partners added: “This project gives us tremendous opportunities to see what construction technology will be like in the next five or 10 years.’’

Photo Credit: Agnese Sanvito

For more information, visit: www.lboro.ac.uk

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