A recent 3D printing demonstration prompted Simon Odell to look at the technology and resources available to landscape architects.

    This image '3D print in progress' is by Tim Regan on Flickr, published under the Creative Commons licence.

    Physical models of the landscape have long had a fascination for many, whether the public visiting Madurodam or for clients wanting to visualise their buildings and their surroundings. It used to be painstaking work, but 3D printing and other rapid prototyping techniques are now much more affordable and can fit in well with normal workflows in the design studio.

    There are different technologies available for fabricating models and prototypes.  Some work rather like glorified glue guns, by precisely adding fine layers of materials (the choice of which is also growing). Others work by focusing light to cure liquid resin. The advent of 3D printing has also renewed interest in CNC machining, which is a more seasoned technology. This works by subtracting material from a block, e.g. by cutting or using a laser. Each technology offers different materials, precision and opportunities for the types and complexity of objects that can be created.

    Of course, large and complex scale models require expensive equipment. There are firms available that are geared up to undertake the necessary 3D scanning, conversion into 3D computer models, and then the fabrication once the designer has made modifications. One example is Hobsrepo, which in a demonstration at the Landscape 2013 show, showed the convergence of these technologies into the concept of “making 3D copies of the real world”.

    The tantalising part of this is that the cheapest 3D printers for home or office use are now coming in below the £800 mark. These are likely to be the fused filament fabrication (FFF) type, probably with only one or two printer heads and capable of rendering objects approximately 15 cm cubed at a resolution of about 200 microns. These dimensions and the limited range of colours might detract from the technique’s appeal, but creating larger objects by tiling is possible. At these prices I suspect there will be some members who would be interested to experiment with this technology, probably not to create models of their full proposals but perhaps to prototype customised elements such as a seat or other item of street furniture. For with a .stl (or .obj) file, derived from packages like Sketchup and Autodesk, it is possible now to create scaled 3D models of designs on a PC and print these out within a few hours.

    If you have experience of visually representing schemes using models, or if you’re interested in them, get involved in the new Talking Landscape discussion group, ‘3D printing as a way to help people visual schemes’.

    Simon Odell CMLI



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