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ETH will 3D print a 23-meter tall White Tower on the Swiss alps

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The village of Mulegns is located on the Julier Pass road, and has just 16 inhabitants. The aim of the ETH project is to bring in culture and revitalize the area. This plan is the brainchild of Giovanni Netzer, theatre director and founder of the Origen cultural festival. To this end, his foundation had an old villa relocated, reopened a hotel and is now having the White Tower Mulegns 3D printed using white concrete.

The White Tower Mulegns was designed and planned by ETH Professor Benjamin Dillenburger and Michael Hansmeyer from the Digital Building Technologies research group, together with the Origen foundation. The tower is 23 meters in height and consists mainly of organically shaped, 3D ​printed white concrete columns. They support four floors that are each between four and eight meters high. At the top, they form a dome and surround a stage where theatre plays, dance performances and concerts will be held.

The project is a fascinating blend of culture and science. ETH aims to use this collaboration to strengthen the association between culture, research and technology development, said Detlef Günther, Vice President for Research at ETH Zurich, “because new knowledge often emerges where various disciplines meet”.

White Tower Mulegns
From left to right: Giovanni Netzer, theatre director; Detlef Günther, ETH Vice President for Research; President of the Confederation Guy Parmelin and Mario Cavigelli, Covernment Council of Grisons. (Photograph: Benjamin Hofer)

The White Tower will have a prominent position on the Julier Pass and is intended to be visually reminiscent of the Grisons confectionery tradition. Large numbers of Grisons emigrants made a name for themselves as pâtissiers in Europe’s capital cities in the 18th century, with their elaborately decorated creations of small, delicate sugar towers.

The tower will be distinctive not only from an artistic perspective but also in terms of its construction, as it will be one of the tallest 3D ​printed, robot-built structures ever. Alongside Benjamin Dillenburger, three other ETH professors from the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication are involved in the development process: Robert Flatt is working on the mixing of concrete – the “ink” for the 3D printer, so to speak – while Walter Kaufmann is responsible for the structural integrity and the connections of the printed concrete elements, and Andreas Wieser’s area is metrology and inspection.

The 3D printing approach to construction allows complex geometries to be produced, and for the concrete to be used exactly where it is needed for the load-bearing structure. The structure will also need fewer raw materials overall, as no formwork is needed.

If everything goes according to plan, a public construction site will be set up in April 2022, and everyone will be able to watch as a robot applies the white concrete layer by layer. This robot will need just two hours for a three-meter-high column. And the process of dismantling has also already been planned: the concrete elements can all be taken apart, and the tower can theoretically be rebuilt at another location.

ETH and the Origen foundation already worked together back in 2019, when digitally printed concrete columns were used to create a stage set for dance and theatre performances in the gardens of the Villa Carisch in Riom.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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