Technology Advances in the AEC Industry: 3D Printed Masonry Wall

3D printing has revolutionized the AEC industry through its cost-effective and time-efficient solutions. 3D printing is also known as additive technology. It started as a technique for raising various objects, which is now actively used to create three-dimensional spatial enclosures. The technology uses materials such as plastics, composites and biomaterials as a medium. These environments are layered to build walls and spatial shells. One such example of 3D printing technology is demonstrated through the construction of HIVE, a 3D printed masonry wall. This technological intervention reverses the role of art and craft in the genre of building construction. HIVE is thus a perfect combination of traditional materials, advanced geometry and robotic precision.

3D printed brick wall

The design

This parametric structure was constructed in 2021 by a team at the University of Waterloo in Canada. It is designed as a privacy wall in the office. THE HIVE has earned iconic status thanks to its honeycomb-like imagery and the technology used. It is a perfect example of where art meets technology and aesthetics meets functionality. This composition of 3D printed hexagonal elements acts as an aesthetic background or accent wall. It also separates the space, thus creating a private experience from the other end. The structuring of the individual units further creates an evocative experience by allowing light and acoustic access while creating a partial visual barrier.

Additionally, the aggregation of the 3D printed hexagonal units helps distribute the load evenly, making the wall structurally and materially efficient. The fenestration formed in the wall by the opening and closing patterns of the hexagonal elements adds a sense of play. The play of light and shadow further contributes to this, thus setting a different atmosphere. In this way, the HIVE not only divides and divides space, but also binds space and the spatial experience as a whole.

3D printed brick wall

Design development

This 3D printed wall, believed to be the first 3D printed masonry wall in Canada, is a product developed after a rigorous process. Thus, it is the result of a complex methodology involving testing different materials, formulating with different designs and applying multiple manufacturing processes to achieve the end goal.

Consequently, a new design language was created through traditional ceramic craft combined with advanced robotic technology. The process of developing this design thus opened up, offering new avenues for material expression and geometric complexity in the genres of architecture and design. The development aimed to experiment with traditional materials to create long-lasting, robust innovations. In this way, HIVE sets the stage for the concept of “digital craftsmanship” as a construction process using traditional materials and images in a contemporary context.

The process

3D printing is an additive manufacturing process that forms three-dimensional objects referencing a digital file in the system. These are essentially profile cross-section detail files. In this way, the printer uses the medium and layers the cross-sections on top of each other to derive the shape of the profile in real-time and at real-scale.

Thus, the modular unit digital file of The HIVE was created and cross-sectional details were developed. Additionally, clay was used in the construction to increase the malleability and fluidity of the material, which was necessary to mold the units into the desired hexagonal shape. Additionally, the robotic machine raises the digital profile through cut clay layers.

The result

3D printed masonry wall measuring 2.3mx 5.4m! The team later conducted a study to test different scale models. This led them to formulate a geometry of computationally designed units to ensure the feasibility of the structure.

Everything to everything

Constructed through a geometric compilation of triangular units consisting of four hexagonal 3D printed units each, HIVE stands strong not only as a permeable, semi-open wall, but also as a work of art, a work of digital aesthetics and craftsmanship.

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