3D Printing Architecture: Bringing Tailor-Made Design to Everyone
As architectural graduates, Hans Vermeulen, Hedwig Heinsman and Martine de Wit started their practice with an idea to bring architecture to the masses by digitizing the processes between developers and inhabitants. To further this goal, they built their own large 3D printer. Understanding that buildings consist of products, they decided to explore 3D printing in architecture and refine a designer-to-maker digital process under a separate business entity called Aectual.
Today, Aectual is offering a growing number of high-resolution digitally printed architectural products from floor surfaces to wall panels, which can be customized for individual projects. Learn more about their experience transitioning into product and process design, identifying valuable marketplaces for growth, new opportunities for innovative and sustainable materials, and growing their businesses through lessons of industry, perseverance and partnership in this interview with the architect-founder.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
Our background is in architecture. All three founders of DUS Architects studied in Delft, went abroad and came back. We started DUS Architects in 2004 with the idea to bring architecture to the masses, which was quite analog back then. In our work we designed and streamlined the processes between developers, cities and the inhabitants, or the users. After a few years, while the iPhone and social networks arrived, we started questioning what will be the effects of digitalization for our own industry. What if we could 3D print houses? In 2011, it turned out no XL printers were on the market. That’s why we started building our first big 3D printer ourselves as a research by doing (R&DO) project. We created our own digital tools to test and design the effects of digitalization and 3D printing for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
In 2013 we launched the 3D printed Canal House project to share the technology with the world. This generated global media attention up to Obama visiting Amsterdam and the project. We used the Canal House project as a means to connect with different partners and stakeholders in the field; and to discover the business case of digital production of architecture. Through our hands-on R&DO approach we connected with material companies, engineering companies, builders, software developers and new clients. Together we built an eco-system from all kinds of disciplines, which are needed to re-design the way we build.
We realized that buildings consist of products. So, we started to dissect the house into different products. Inspired by Rem Koolhaas’ elements of architecture, we started to actually digitize products instead of full-house solutions and make them customizable so they can be made custom fit for every building around the world. The markets for those products are way bigger than you can imagine for a one-house solution. For example, the floor market alone is a €300 billion market worldwide.
We started to get questions from other designers, architects and companies to use our technology and products. For that reason, we founded Aectual to enable everyone in the AEC industry to explore our sustainable and digital tools. From a project it evolved into a new business with a different business model and organization than our architecture firm DUS.
Since 2017, we have successfully launched multiple products to the global market. Current users of our platform include Nike, BMW, Patricia Urquiola and Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Our growing number of products is generating what we call the “Playlist for Architecture”. In the near future it will allow you to connect different products to create full house solutions, for example a hospital or a school.
Can you tell us more about the process of creating your 3D printing architecture company? How did you start and how did you finance it?
In the beginning, we used our own money, sweat and tears with some financial subsidies. Then we built partnerships around the possibilities of the technology connected with the products and business cases of the partners. This generated a revenue stream based on research and development services, or co-development, as a second way of financing the company. The third financing method was to give it back to the public, to open a building site as a museum and technology playground showcasing the technology and its potential without having a finished building. This was our take on crowdfunding.
This content is available exclusively to Archipreneur+ Members.
Subscribe today and you will receive unlimited access to all Archipreneur+ content including our research reports, get access to our global community and much more.
Join our Newsletter
Get our best content on Architecture, Creative Strategies and Business. Delivered each week for free.