ArchitectureBiomaterialsConstruction 3D Printing

ACTLAB unveils bio-inspired, 3D printed Trabeculae Pavilion

Construction complete on 36 sq m structure at the Politecnico di Milano University

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ACTLAB, the experimental architecture laboratory at the Politecnico di Milano University in Italy has announced the completion of its 3D printed Trabeculae Pavilion. The ethereal, lightweight shell, which spans 36 square meters, demonstrates how 3D printing and bio-inspired computational design can come together to create truly stunning architecture.

We first got wind of the Trabeculae Pavilion project last year, when ACTLAB presented a preview of the 3D printed structure at Made Expo 2017. The project, led and designed by doctoral researcher and Assistant Professor at the University of Southern Denmark Roberto Naboni, explores how 3D printing can be used as a solution to the increasing scarcity of material resources.

With that at the project’s core, ACTLAB has also turned to nature for design inspiration, and has found its main inspiration in the trabeculae, the internal cells that form microstructures in bone. Using a custom algorithm and computational processes, the experimental architecture lab has come up with a bio-inspired, load-responsive structure that maximizes material efficiency through varying sizes, topology and orientation.

“Recent decades have seen an exponential growth in the demand for raw materials due to the rapid urbanization and industrialization of emerging economies,” said Naboni. “This research looks at biological models and at the opportunities offered by the new additive production technologies in order to find sustainable solutions to the exploitation of materials. Our objective is to explore a new model of construction that is advanced, efficient and sustainable.”

Load-responsive shell

The Trabeculae Pavilion itself consists of a load-responsive shell made up of 352 components, each printed using a high-resistance biopolymer developed in collaboration with Italian filament producer FILOALFA. The large-scale pavilion reportedly used about 112 kilometres of the biopolymer in production and is meant to showcase FDM’s potential for construction applications.

The custom algorithms used to generate the complex design the structure have resulted in a structure that is at once extremely resistant and lightweight. In fact, ACTLAB says the pavilion has a variable weight to area ratio of 6 to 10 kg/m2, which is about ten times lighter than more traditional structures with a similar mechanical performance.

The shell-like structure also stands out for its aesthetics, which were conceived of specifically for 3D printing. 


Fully 3D printed architecture

On the 3D printing side, ACTLAB worked with Italian 3D printer manufacturer WASP. Specifically, the 352 components for the Trabeculae Pavilion were printed using a number of Delta WASP printers installed in the Politecnico di Milano’s ABC Department labs. Impressively, ACTLAB adds that the printers were running in parallel for a continuous production of over 4,350 hours.

The 3D printers used were reportedly also equipped with experimental Spitfire extruders which were used, for the first time, to produce stiff components within a minimized time frame. Overall, ACTLAB says the synergy of design, material and additive manufacturing enabled the conceptualization and realization of an innovative construction method that prioritizes material efficiency and load-responsiveness.

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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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