Apr 27, 2016 | By Alec

When you think of concrete 3D printing in Asia, Winsun’s groundbreaking cement creations are the first things that come to mind. Just last month, they even 3D printed two concrete courtyards. But they are by no means the only Asian developers to experiment with concrete 3D printing, as another pioneering group led by Thai architect Pitupong Chaowakul has just completed Southeast Asia’s first 3D printed home. A home in the broadest sense of the word, that is, as they have 3D printed an amazing 21st century cave – a recreation of the first dwellings our distant ancestors ever called home.

This remarkable cave structure is actually called the ‘Y-Box Pavilion, 21st-century Cave’ and is currently on display at the “Architect16 exhibition” at the Muang Thong Thani Impact complex in Bangkok, Thailand. It is the first 3D printed concrete result of a collaboration between Thai architect Pitupong Chaowakul of Supermachine Studio and Thai cement maker the Siam Cement Group (SCG). As Pitupong explained to Bankokpost, they are trying to add a new dynamic to conventional construction methods by questioning what a home actually looks like. This is reflected in the ‘Y-Box’ portion of the name, which refers to a question architects ask about new designs: “Why does it have to be a box?”

To answer that question, Pitupong looked way back through the history of human dwellings. In ancient times, he explained, humans found shelter and safety in caves. Through steady human progress, we’ve now outgrown the caves but they still have a powerful meaning to them. They symbolize, the architect explains, peace and safety in a distant place. That’s exactly what he sought to recapture for new homes in the 21rst century, which can be developed with paradigm-shifting technologies.

This approach is also reflected in the cave’s design. All six columns supporting the structure twist upwards or downwards in a way reminiscent of natural stalagmites and stalactites. But thanks to 3D printing’s signature layer structure, they also have a very modern feel to them. According to Pitupong, the connecting points are, just like the columns, meticulously designed in CAD software to create beautiful shadow effects when the round geodesic lamp is turned on. The lamp itself has been created using 180 different triangular pieces.

As Sanit Kessuwan, the head of R&D at SCG, explained, none of this would have been possible without 3D printing. “Every single part is printed out on a 3D printer,” Sanit explained. “The pavilion was 3D printed in sections at the SCG factory and then all the components were simply snapped together.” The design process alone took three months, with construction taking another month or so. What’s more, both FDM 3D printing and powder bed/inkjet 3D printing technologies were used for this cave, with the latter technology being perfect for the small details.

To realize it, they used an especially imported large-scale concrete 3D printer developed by Italian company WASP, and a custom made cement. This stone-like cement has high compressive strength properties, thanks to the inclusion of a binding agent and various fibers, which was necessary to support such a tall concrete structure. According to Sanit, it was developed in collaboration with the Italian specialists, and even overcomes the traditional strength limitations of concrete. “For any work 3D printing technology can fulfil the requirements,” he said. “We would like to drive the construction industry in Thailand, and 3D printing technology is one of the innovations that will get more involved in the construction and architecture.”

While the results certainly look impressive, architect Pitupong was also very interested in its implications. He feels that this is a proof-of-concept that shows exactly how 3D printing technology can blow the field of architecture wide open. Architects, he says, can move beyond straight and cheap floors, walls and ceilings, and think about elegant design. “The technology allows craft and industry to merge,” he says.

In fact, he went even further and argued that 3D printing paves the way towards iconic creations that rival some of the world’s most beautiful historic structures. “Craftsmen today probably couldn't duplicate the Taj Mahal without the help of 3D printing technology. It's an additive technology that's having a huge impact on design and construction,” he argued, adding that the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona would’ve been finished years ago if 3D printing was used.

Unfortunately, Sanit doesn’t expect we will be replacing box-shaped houses with gorgeous 3D printed creations any time soon. Though the technology has the potential to cut labor, time and transportation costs, the necessary investments are simply too high. While the cave only cost about 1 million baht (or about $28.000 USD) to make, turning it into a fully functional home would be far more expensive than conventional home construction techniques. Despite that barrier, the design team certainly believes that box-shaped homes will be a thing of the past soon. “3D printing technology has now made it possible to create something different. Possibilities will be endless in the future,” Pitupong concluded.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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