3D Printed Glass Could Change Architecture Forever

According to George Costanza, there’s nothing more prestigious than being an architect and who are we to argue with the Lord of the Idiots? Anyway, 3D printing is pretty damn awesome for a number of reasons. One of them is that printers have been rigged to utilize a range of materials from plastic to metal to wax. Now some lads at MIT, in collaboration with Harvard, have come up with something they call the 3GDP which is a 3D printer for glass. This bad boy is the first of its kind and heats up glass to a scorching 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit before squeezing it out through an aluminum nozzle; kind of like a hot glue gun, but with glass… and a lot hotter… and it looks freakin’ awesome.


The decorative pieces made by 3GDP will be exhibited in NYC’s Cooper Hewitt Museum in 2016. At the moment the printer can only create small works, as the hot glass extruded by the printer is only 10mm in diameter and the machine can only print objects 10 inches long, 10 inches deep and 11 inches wide. So, right now we know that we can 3D print with glass and that can lead to experimenting with various patterns and their impact on optics and structural strength, but where do we go from here?

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Neri Oxman and her team want to use this success as a springboard to much bigger things, but how? Time for a wee lesson in architecture! Back in the 1920s a German-American architect named Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who really loved the phrase “less is more”, came up with some funky stuff known as “skin and bones” architecture. This style harped on structures with minimal, but strong, framework draped in glass which was a revolutionary vision at the time. Mies is now regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture and his sci-fi ideas could become a reality thanks to this new glass 3D printing.


Oxman is optimistic that the new printing method will enable elaborate glass facades on buildings to be constructed.“Could we design an all-glass building with internal channels and networks for airflow and water circulation?” she asks. “Can we surpass the great modern tradition of discrete formal and functional partitions and generate an all-in-one building skin.” The answer to her questions could be a resounding yes. Why? Because traditional glass blowing is smooth inside and out, but 3D printed glass allows for extremely complex interiors and exteriors that can be controlled ‘to the finest resolution.’ The possibilities are endless for architecture, fiber-optics, and even the transport of water.


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