Companies like Makerbot, and countless examples in engineering, electronics, and science, have proved that 3D printers are great at making tiny stuff, like scale models and component parts that fit just right. But as architects are finding, 3D printers can also generate durable and environmentally friendly architectural materials as well. An Oakland-based MAKE tank called Emerging Objects has proved this with an outdoor sculpture/tempietto called Bloom, which measures approximately 12 feet by 12 feet and is composed of 840 customized 3D printed blocks.
Bloom's curvilinear shape is inspired by several other examples in architecture and the arts, including "the thin masonry structures of Uruguayan architect and engineer, Eladio Dieste, particularly Iglesia Cristo Obrero, Jefferson’s serpentine brick walls at the University of Virginia, and Torqued Elipse, by Richard Serra, which inspires its form."
The cruciform shape rises nine feet to meet a version of the same shape, this time rotated 45 degrees. This makes it look a little like an elephant's foot, or the traditional mud houses of the Tiebele people in Ghana, which inspired some of the company's earliest projects.
Each brick in the Bloom structure is unique and designates its position in the overall structure. Instead of being designed using a blueprint, the architects used a spreadsheet to position blocks and held them together using stainless steel hardware.
The blocks of the structure were printed by 11 powder-based 3D printers using a special filament that, though it contains some plastic, consists mainly of iron oxide-free Portland cement. Iron oxide can darken the material or lighten it if it's removed from the mixture. The plastic component of the polymer is ecologically derived and UV resistant, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 50 percent compared to traditional petroleum-based epoxies, even those that use plant-based sources. The variegated pattern allows shifting light to pass through in surprising ways.
Bloom was assembled on the UC Berkeley campus in March, then disassembled and shipped to Thailand, where it will be exhibited for several months and then embark on a journey around the world, perhaps meeting with the original countries of many of its influences.