Construction 3D PrintingDesign

Grotto Façade reimagines built environments with 3D printing

The project is a collaboration between Sandhelden and architect Barry Wark

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Part of the magic of 3D printing is that it has, in its own manner, helped us to see our relationship to the natural world in new and interesting ways. That is, while many technologies might obstruct our relationship to nature, 3D printing – in the hands of the right designer or researcher – can bring us closer to it. Such is the case in Sanhelden’s most recent project: Grotto Façade.

Germany-based Sandhelden was founded in 2014 and specializes in sand 3D printing. Back in 2018, we spoke to the company’s Head of Design Carlos del Castillo González about a new market they were tapping into: bathroom washbasins. The company has apparently not limited itself in scope, however, as its latest endeavor goes in a whole new direction.

Sandhelden Grotto Facade Barry Wark

According to the German firm, Grotto Façade is a project that investigates “3D printing’s inherent ability to fabricate imaginative forms and its subsequent potential for novel spatial conditions in architecture.” In more particular terms, the project consists of a 3D printed grotto-inspired structure that showcases a potential avenue for integrating natural elements into contemporary buildings.

“By using 3D printing, buildings could become constructed of highly intricate and specific conditions for moss and plants to grow within them,” the company tells us. “The building employs the formal qualities of grottos and these are rooted in the project’s circulation and façade areas where inside and outside blur. These zones transition in language from recognizable geometries to those of organic, geological formations.”

The project itself is a collaboration between Sandhelden and architect Barry Wark, both of whom are interested in exploring AM’s potential for transforming built environments. 3D printing, as we’ve seen, is being used for construction purposes to create new structures and previously impossible architectural designs. Of course, the technology is still in its infancy, but many are starting to notice 3D printing’s ability from a construction/architecture perspective.

Sandhelden Grotto Facade Barry Wark

In this investigation, the partners have 3D printed an architectural model, which provides an idea as to what a future built environment could look like. The scaled down model, impressive in its own right, was 3D printed from quartz sand, measures 500 x 256 x 250 mm and weighs 23 kg. It was produced using Sandhelden’s patented binder jetting sand printing process. and was finished using a special infiltration process.

“The research transforms the methodology, working with bottom up assemblies of intricate components, in which the legibility of the structure and its joints dissolve to return its perception to a natural entity. This is explored through computational design methods where a non-destructive, procedural modelling work-flow can create infinite variety in parts but also multiple configurations within their assembly. Inherent in this process is the ability to add more criteria and parameters to the system as the parts are tested and refined throughout the research process.”

The incredibly intricate 3D printed model provides a look into Wark and Sandhelden’s innovative vision for future living/working spaces. 3D printing could also prove to be an instrumental process if the Grotto Façade concept is every realized at the full scale.

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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