As the number of skilled craftsmen who can replicate or restore architectural elements of historic facades dwindles, many 19th and 20th-century buildings are becoming vulnerable to the wrecking ball. Can a cutting-edge 21st technology save the historic structures in our cities?
The smooth, sleek glass minimalist facades that characterize late 20th and 21st-century architecture have had an unintended consequence – reducing the demand for the highly skilled craftsmen that created the elaborate architectural ornaments of structure from bygone eras. As historical urban buildings age, these elements show the effects of both age and exposure to pollution. In many cases, even if a craftsman is able and available to restore the damaged milled and sculpted facade pieces, the cost and time involved to complete the work is beyond the parameters of most projects. As a result, many historic buildings in cities across the globe are at risk of demolition because they cannot be restored. Is there another option besides the wrecking ball for these historic architectural treasures?
The 3D Printing Process for Historic Architecture Replicas and Restorations
Architects in both the United States and Europe have successfully used 3D printing to create replicas of historic sculpted and milled features of historic buildings. For example, the technology-driven New York City architectural firm EDG uses 3D printing to create replacement pieces for historic ornaments when they do historic renovation projects. Additionally, a restaurateur in Ontario Canada contracted with a local design firm to recreate Victorian-era architectural elements for his restaurant using 3D printing.
The basic process used to create 3D printed replicas of historic architectural elements is as follows:
- This first step is to conduct a 3D survey using a standard digital camera along with texture data.
- A technician uses 3D photogrammetry processing software application to process the data. Technicians can also use 3D modeling software to manipulate the object.
- Point clouds are then triangulated to develop a 3D mesh and the thickness of the different parts of the ornament.
- Based on the type of material to be used in the printing process, the team will use either Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) or Computer Numerical Control (CNC) 3D printing.
- Typically, layers of the material are printed from the bottom, making the processing additive.
- In some cases, an acrylic resin is injected into the piece to give it color.
- In addition to creating actual pieces, 3D printing can be used to make molds to cast the ornament.
To learn more about the 3D printing process, watch this video:
The Benefits of Using 3D Printing in Historic Renovations
The use of 3D printing for historic architectural elements offers several distinct advantages when compared to other method or restore these ornamental features, such as hand sculpting or laser cutting.
The benefits of 3D printing include:
- When compared to hand sculpted replicas of historic features, 3D printing offers significant time and cost savings.
- The use of laser cutting technology is cost prohibitive for the vast majority of restoration projects whereas 3D printing produces high quality reproductions at a fraction of the cost.
- Creating elements from precast concrete presents creative limitations that are not an issue with 3D printing.
- Most architectural elements can be created onsite in less than a day, which reduces the amount of time needed to complete a project.
- The digital 3D model used to print the object can be cataloged and stored for future use in the event the ornament incurs damage.
- Using 3D printing to create historic architectural elements creates less waste than other reproduction methods.
As 3D printing technology advances, its applications in architecture will surely increase.
What do you think about using 3D printing in historic renovations? Have you used this technology? If so, What is your experience?