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BLOOMING MARVEL

THE LARGEST 3D-PRINTED POWDER CEMENT STRUCTURE TO DATE REVEALS THE POTENTIAL FOR CLICK-AND-PRINT CONCRETE CONSTRUCTION!

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The myriad of possibilities offered by 3D printing have been making waves in the world for a while now. Manufacturing technologies are set to be revolutionised and production processes made shorter, snappier and more cost-effective.

These rapid advances towards a far more automated world have had ramifications for the use of cement in the construction industry, as seen in the pioneering work done by Bekrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern Carolina. The fabrication process that Khoshnevis is currently exploring, contour crafting, is increasingly being seen as a viable alternative to traditional construction methods. The benefits are manifold and the possibilities exciting, with talk of 3D building technology being used to build structures on Mars and the Moon.

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Associate Professor of Architecture, Ronald Rael and his team at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental design have recently unveiled another innovative project involving 3D-printed concrete. 3D printing has proved to be effective when producing intricate detail on a small-scale, however the method utilized by Rael elevates the detailed precision of 3D printing to a much larger scale.

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Constructed using 840 customized concrete blocks, Bloom is an elegant freestanding pavilion that measures 2.7m in height and has a footprint of around 3.6m x 3.6m. Printed with a delicate floral design that allows light to pass through the structure, the interplay between light, shadow and line creates a surface effect that sharply veers away from the conventional perception of concrete architecture. Adding to this sculptural quality, its curvilinear form derives inspiration from the work of Uruguayan architect and engineer, Eladio Dieste as well as the Torqued Ellipse series of sculptures by Richard Serra.

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It is not only a unique aesthetic that sets the Bloom pavilion apart from other 3D-printed structures, but also the method of construction and materials used. When 3D printing involves cement, it is generally put to use through an extrusion method that sprays concrete from a nozzle. In this case, Rael and the team made use of a system that involves printing thin layers of a special dry cement powder that is then sprayed with water to harden. The formulation is comprised of iron oxide-free Portland cement, fibres and polymers. This results in a strong and lightweight material that achieves a substantially smoother finish.

The end result is particularly beautiful and undoubtedly cements 3D printing as a construction method of the future.

All images by Matthew Millman Photography: www.matthewmillman.com

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