I began with an idea of structures, architecture, and computer-generated forms. While the term “Hybrid Materialities” (as the assignment was titled) might suggest something essentially material, my interest quickly changed from the immediately tangible to the again, more structural. To me, it became about understanding the 3D-printing process to the end of more efficiently being able to implement it into my own design process; to see what could be automated, refined, or streamlined.
Initially, given my inexperience with the tools, I looked at concepts varying from fashion and the likes of Iris van Herpen, to the massively extensive work of Neri Oxman. What I ultimately found most inspiring (also given the scope of the assignment) was this idea of varying structures and I was particularly inspired by a NASA-hosted competition calling for conceptual 3D-printed habitats. What structures and conceptual forms can be inspired from this indeed very futuristic tool? How could the device be used in earlier parts of the design process (concept generation) rather than towards the final stages? Surely enough, the competition demanded more thorough analysis and proposals. Yet the very idea given by NASA of how a different aesthetic can be generated, or shaped, from the tooling that the printer offers, is interesting. The 3D-printing revolution has been anticipated for some time however its effective use is still limited. In the design process, its actual use is indeed very effective within the rapid prototyping stages, yet I wondered, given the tone of the assignment, whether it could fit elsewhere in the design process equally well.
I began by sketching out a selection of shapes. Very few parameters existed at this point in terms of how they looked and even in terms of their probability. My idea was to make shapes, or “typologies” as I ended up calling them, that left the 3D-printer with having to “fill in the gaps”, or generate support structures, to use the more technical term. Within the popular CAD-program Rhino I interpreted the loose sketches and tried to stretch the limits of actual probability further. By leaving obvious cavities in between groups of objects, I envisioned how new structures would generate, signifying movements or patterns within say, a building or a structure. Going back to the source of inspiration, being the Mars architecture competition by NASA, one could imagine using these artefacts as guiding visuals.
After making a broad range of objects in CAD, I exported each one separately to then import them into Cura (the software for printing on Ultimaker 3D-printers). Initially, I had planned to evaluate the generated support structure back in 3D, counting polygons etc., however I discovered that wasn’t possible. Instead, I opted to evaluate them visually. Criteria for evaluating the shapes were quite informal, meaning I basically looked at them and analysed them visually. What had happened to the shape? Why did the support structure look like that? As the technician in the laser cutting workshop pointed out to me, the groups of shapes ordered in space, going against gravity as it were, would generate far more structures. All but left for the designer is then to interpret them, and assign them meaning.
I find that the patterns created by the printer is interesting from the perspective of spatial design and say, urban design. The models signal movement and ways of creating a unison structure or form through techniques that appear intuitive and logical. The structures are optimal in many ways. For future work I would like to see what this aesthetic, or conceptual design language, could potentially look when applied to actual product design.