From Research to Reality: Recyclable, 3D Printed Facade
For their PhD research project, Mortiz Mungenast and Oliver Tessin searched for a way to use 3D printing technology to create an intelligent architectural product, a 3D printed façade. They were driven to create not only a product, but also a fully digitized design-to-production process, eliminating the risks of mistranslation and inefficiencies which occur traditionally, and to do it all at once at 1:1 scale. Today, Mortiz, Oliver and Luc are 3F Studio.
As a result of that research endeavor, they have founded a company and system delivering 3D printed façades, which are multifunctional and sustainable, soon to be unveiled at the new entrance of the Deutsches Museum in Munich. In this in-depth interview with the founders below, learn why they’ve earned international recognition for their very first project, and check out their advice for Archipreneurs looking to take a similar leap into the world of architectural products.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
Moritz: After working as an architect I returned to university for my PhD. I found this research period to be very fulfilling because in some ways I had missed this opportunity at the beginning of my career. At first, I focused on getting acquainted with new technologies and new materials, and I was interested in 3D printing. Then I started concentrating on facades, and I began to develop a 3D-printed multifunctional façade as my PhD project.
Oliver: For me, working with computational tools, 3D-printing and the principals of nature is very fulfilling. I believe it’s relevant today, because they enable concepts that can create an inseparable unity of formal and functional aesthetics. Also, resources are limited, cities are growing.
I believe we need to build better performing and sustainable architecture with less materials. This is part of my approach and philosophy with which I develop computational methods and techniques. One of them a concept for smooth folded surfaces. Back then, people said I should use it for façade shading and it became a major motivation for “FLUID MORPHOLOGY” for me.
How did you come up with the idea of developing 3D printed façade elements?
Mortiz: I chose the 3D printed facade topic for my PhD after searching for a truly useful and appropriate application for 3D printing in architecture. My dream was to close the chain from the digital design to a really productive piece of architecture in one-to-one scale so that the normal process of creating architecture would be a lot easier, quicker, and with less possibilities of making mistakes.
In my experience of having built several buildings, the planning process is straightforward, but then a lot of people come together and try to build the design, and it gets a little bit messy and it’s not that easy anymore. I thought it would be nice to use the digital possibilities in a smarter way and to really create architecture in 1:1 scale, all 3D printed.
"3D printing was not only about creating a crazy, new form in architecture but as well, creating multifunctionality out of one piece, out of one material, and in one production step."
After researching different construction elements, the façade was then really the focus because there are a lot of different functions on a really narrow space, such as sun shading, ventilation, insulation, structural behaviors, and so on. This was the point where 3D printing was not only about creating a crazy, new form in architecture but as well, creating multifunctionality out of one piece, out of one material, and in one production step. So, this was then the challenge really to get going with this idea.
After working in other groups and trying out different concept approaches, the three of us did a project together called “FLUID MORPHOLOGY”. Oliver and I were supervisors and Luc was student at that time. In a team with four more students we developed a the façade element in 1:1 scale, which we installed in a testing station to get some real data out of it and to prove that the idea could work.
Can you tell us more about the process of 3D printing architecture? How does it work and what steps did you take from the idea to the first prototype?
Moritz: We followed a typical research progress. These considerations were all melted down, where we tried really to pin down all the different parameters.
1. DEFINITIONS The first step was really to define functions in the façade, which could potentially be printed. Since 3D printers can only print geometry, I created this topic of “functional geometry” to define geometries which have certain function attached to them. We researched this topic by looking to nature for similar problems, similar functions, maybe in a different scale but we then transferred those ideas into an architectural scale.
2. PRINTABLE Then we considered what would be printable. What kind of printer could print this functional geometry? After we printed samples and tested them for a year, I had an overview of what is possible and what can be combined in one production step. Since some functions had to be printed with powder bed printers and others with FDM and it is hard to combine them, it was clear that we needed to choose one printing method.
3. MATERIAL Choosing the material is also a big topic because some concepts only work with a new material, which couldn’t be printed yet. We needed a transparent material which is not very expensive, and the only transparent material that could be printed was with the FDM printer. This was then polycarbonate.
4. SITUATION With the definition of the material and printer parameters defined, the next step was to look into the place where it was situated. We selected the solar station at the rooftop of the TU Munchen. Orientation plays always a big role in the geometric evolution and definition.
5. FUNCTION Our task was to include 5 different façade functions in the design prototype of a single element: structural geometry, insulation, sun shading, acoustic surfaces, and ventilation. This was the crucial step, to prove that it could work.
6. MODELING Next, we needed to tackle the complexity of the 3D modeling, always checking to ensure our design could really be printed.
Oliver: After the framework for “FLUID MORPHOLOGY” was laid out, we developed multiple concept ideas and made first parametric sketches of them. One of them was based on the idea of smooth folded surfaces, which translated into water-like ripples. Because they were logically oriented to the sun and aesthetically appealing, we selected it. This is a lot how we work for 3F Studio projects.
Digital tools are really great in these early stages. You can quickly communicate the potential of the idea, because when you change parameters such as the folding angle, you can intuitively understand how the façade adapts to its environment and how it will look.
And if you have all the digital geometry, it is easy to print out scale models and even 1:1 prototypes, which are great to convince clients that the concept is feasible. You can touch it and see whether its sturdy enough. It’s the most effective way and further enables us to estimate production costs from the first day.
Luc: Exactly. A lot of people think that with 3D printers you can produce anything. But especially with FDM printers, you have certain limitations. For example, printing certain overhangs isn’t possible because you can’t print in air without a certain type of a support structure, which would cause longer printing times in order to produce it.
We completed a lot of different loops in order to optimize the geometry to be first-hand printable, also in a reasonable amount of time. And there are different aspects also in production, like, segmentation, the connecting details, but also the inner structure in order to get structural good façade element, but also adapt to other functions like insulation.
What made you decide to turn this into a business? What makes you unique?
Moritz: When we succeeded with this university project, we decided to start a company out of it and the system, 3F Studio.
There’s a huge interest right now in being able to close the gap in supertopics like digitalization and industry 4.0. Everybody is talking about it across different scales, and I think we’re really representing this in a way by translating a digital design into a physical façade which is 3D printed in one production step.
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