3-D printing may soon expand beyond the small scale. In 2010, the world’s largest 3-D printer will build the Radiolaria Pavilion, a 10-meter-tall structure in Pontedera, Italy. Made out of sandstone, the building will be printed one 5-10mm layered sheet at a time.
The thin layers of the structure are held together by an inorganic binder, not the normal steel reinforcements that most buildings have. This allows for strength and design freedom not available before. The structure was designed using CAD/CAM software and then exported directly to the printer. Once printed, it only takes about 24 hours for the material to fully set. The process is also pretty environmentally sound, and if any of the building material remains unused, it can be recycled.
So far only a 3-by-3-by-3 meter model has been made of the Radiolaria Pavilion, but that’s enough to prove the process works. Considering the ease of moving from design programs to finished building, this could transform building construction. Without the need for rigid steel reinforcement, it could also usher in an era of more free-flowing and organic architectural design. Soon we might be living in printed sandstone buildings that rival those on Tattooine.