Digital Craft – 3D Printing for Architectural Design

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Elevating 3D Print to a Digital Craft

As a global centre for architectural practice, London has a thriving community engaged in 3D printing models for architecture. Bryan Ratzlaff settled in London just as 3D printing was coming to the public’s attention. Five years in and immersed in both 3D printing and architecture, Bryan has written a book (Digital Craft) that will help architects and modelmakers make sense of and begin to master this rapidly evolving medium.

“Bryan’s book has come at a key moment. Everyone has been independently trying things out but little research has been shared.” said George Lee, director of Lee 3D. “Now with this book, the whole industry gets a chance to evaluate the process and then we can begin to raise 3D printed models to another level.”

Digital Craft positions 3D printing in the tradition of architectural modelmaking. Examining the relationship between the architect, the model and the 3D printer. Combining convention with emerging stylistic forms, the book recognises and presents techniques for a new mode of craftsmanship. A digital craft that goes beyond the casual printout and aspires to the fully designed 3D printed object.

The research was based on interviews with leading professionals and illustrated throughout with photographs of real projects. The resulting book is not founded on fanciful claims, but rather on solid industry experience. Digital Craft places responsibility for the look and style of the 3D printed model firmly in the realm of the architect.

Description: Print Book, 120 pages
Title: Digital Craft
Subtitle: 3D Printing for Architectural Design – examining techniques for a new mode of craftsmanship
Author: Bryan Ratzlaff
Publications date: 25th February 2016
Publisher: Lee 3D Ltd

From ArchDaily:

3D printing has been used in architectural practice since the 1990s, and while its use for producing design models continues to be adopted, the aesthetics and stylistic potential of its output remain unexplored by many architects. In his book “Digital Craft: 3D Printing for Architectural Design,” Bryan Ratzlaff examines the relationship between the architect, the model and the 3D printer, creating a better understanding of how when integrated, these entities can lead to a refinement in the communication of architectural design with 3D printing.


University College London Hospitals, Phase 5 interior model, London (UK). Image © Steffian Bradley Architects

Contemporary architects have access to a wide range of mediums to represent, develop and communicate their ideas, from simple sketches to newer digital techniques. Of all available resources, the model is arguably one of the most capable for visualising a design and communicating with others. The types and uses of architectural models have always been varied and they are admittedly not always viewed as an essential part of architectural practice. However, their strength as a platform for analysis and discussion remains an exceptional quality and 3D printing has only served to increase the capacity for exploring design development in three dimensions.

While the application of 3D printing as a construction method is an exciting potential, its use for modelmaking continues to grow and be accepted by an increasing number of architects. For both those adopting the technology and those already using it, it is important to understand the shift it creates in designing the model, beyond the output being made by a machine and in a different material compared to its traditional counterparts.


Music Box design model in urban context, London (UK). Image © SPPARC Architecture

Digital Craft therefore takes an approach to the subject that goes beyond providing technical information for 3D printing. The exploration of digital modelmaking techniques is supplemented by a critical investigation of the architectural model, particularly looking at its use within the design process and as a communication tool. Aided by interviews and examples, the book looks at the effect that 3D printing has on the architectural model, focusing on how the technology can change or expand the role of design models.

Contributing to the digital skillset of architects and designers, Digital Craft explores some of the techniques that can be applied to a 3D printed architectural model, which can aid the representation of information, space and ideas. The book lays out a collection of ideas that designers can build upon and create their own catalogue of stylistic techniques for creating intelligent 3D printed models.


Tower massing studies

Although 3D printing may be perceived as a complex process, there is no reason for a model not to reach its full potential from a lack of design engagement. Architects need not concern themselves with all the technicalities of 3D printing, but an understanding of the capabilities of the technology and the extent of what can be accomplished can increase a model’s value as a design and communication tool.

Bryan Ratzlaff is an architectural designer working in London, UK, with experience in 3D printing for architects.