3D printed building concept model. Source: WhiteClouds
3D printed building concept model. Source: WhiteClouds

Las Vegas - WhiteClouds saw the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) 2014 as a unique opportunity to demonstrate the possibilities with 3D printing. The company put together a team of three designers, Kyle Gifford, Kelly Root and Anthony Horsley, to use their creativity and imagination to make 3D designs of what buildings and cities might look like in the future. WhiteClouds then took the concepts to their 3D printing lab where they used commercial 3D printers to build architectural models of the designs.

The company built four models and each one had parts from two different printers—the ProJet 660 by 3D Systems and the Connex 500 by Stratasys. The ProJet prints in full-color, producing a sandstone-like material that is somewhat brittle. The Connex prints in many different materials including transparent UV-cured resins and hard plastics. Both printers use 3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, to create the models layer by layer.

“Different printers have different strengths,” said Gifford.” “For CES we wanted to illuminate our models from the inside. Because of this we couldn’t use just sandstone (our only color option), so we chose to use other materials that have greater opacity to them.”

The team explained it was difficult and challenging to incorporate pieces from different printers. Sometimes they had to make adjustments to pieces and reprint them so they fit properly in the model. Using two different printers, and a variety of materials, also demonstrates how different technologies can be used in a single model to accommodate the desired look and material characteristics needed.

WhiteClouds created four models with unique characteristics. Two of the structures are designed to be constructed near or on the ocean, be energy efficient and provide a green alternative to traditional buildings. The other two models would be more at home on the moon or a distant planet. One model is equipped with a large spaceship and smaller aircraft that would be used for transportation or to bring supplies to the inhabitants.     

The team looked to other designers for ideas and common themes surrounding futuristic architecture. “I had an original piece of concept art to use as the base idea for the model,” said Root, “it gave the overall shape and design of the city. After that I looked to energy efficient concepts and futuristic designs to keep up with the original idea of the build.”

Gifford created the extra-terrestrial model with the space ship landing pads. “My design was based off of a beachside Dubai Hotel concept, said Gifford. “Many alterations were made to make the design more feasible as a community rather than just a single building. Rather than sticking with the resort theme, I pushed a more space-age direction.”

WhiteClouds’ goal was to push the envelope of 3D printing and show CES attendees what can be done with 3D printing technology and a team of talented designers. “Based on the feedback we received from people at CES, I’d say we exceeded our expectations,” said Kerry Parker, vice president of business development at WhiteClouds. “A lot of people were impressed with the models and didn’t know something this detailed and colorful could be created with a 3D printer.”

While building scale models is nothing new to the architectural industry, WhiteClouds says 3D printing models is an exciting new frontier. Not only can the structure be printed in full color, but can include intricate details like interior walls and even furniture.

“I think that 3d printing is going to play a huge role in architecture,” said Horsley. “It is a very easy and fast way to come up with new concepts to use as design tools in the real-life designs. In just a couple of hours you can have a model printed and see if the design is going to work in real life or if it needs to be adjusted.”