Over the last century we’ve seen the aesthetic of building facades shift from ornately crafted, historical styles to more minimalist, sleeker designs. This simpler style arose from the presence of new technologies and materials including steel and concrete, as well as an emphasis on efficiency and utility, rather than ornamentation. The cost of restoring historic buildings has greatly increased as the number of craftsmen has dwindled. Many of these buildings are subsequently demolished and representations of historic architecture styles are erased. With the emergence of 3D printing technology, however, the possibilities of design and the preservation of these historical buildings are shifting again.
EDG’s “Modern Ornamental” Method for Restoring Facades
In New York, architecture and engineering firm EDG developed a method for restoring historical buildings in the city called “Modern Ornamental.” The firm created complex molds to cast replicas of the parts needed to restore these buildings. 3D printing technology enables designers to scan any portion of a building and input the design and texture data into their 3D modeling software. Once the design information has been processed, a sturdy plastic mold of that part can be 3D printed. A mold would then be coated with a bond-breaker, inlaid with wire mesh and stirrups and cast with concrete. The design can then be catalogued and re-printed at any time. According to EDG, their process for printing and casting molds takes under a day to complete.
3DION x voxeljet’s Restoration of the Michael Portal at Cologne Cathedral
Directly 3D printing parts in different materials is also possible depending on the pieces involved. In Germany, 3DION 3D network and voxeljet teamed up to restore a piece of the Cologne Cathedral called the Michael Portal. After the portal was cleaned they decided to 3D print new replicas of the patrons of the Michael Portal. The 108 figures in the portal as well as existing plaster templates from the 19th century were 3D scanned and scaled and the patron replicas were printed from the CAD data over the course of one weekend using PMMA powder. The replicas were then reinforced by epoxy resin.
Sismaitalia’s Capital Restoration at Spada Palace
Italian large format digital printing company Sismaitalia produced five life-sized capitals for the 19th century Spada Palace in Ferrara by printing hollow replicas and filling them with polyurethane foam. They were then finished with plaster and painted to match the rest of the structure. This method ensured that manufacturing costs would be kept to a minimum without foregoing the aesthetic.
Potential for Restoring Notre Dame with 3D Printing
After Notre Dame caught fire in 2019 and was severely damaged, it was clear the costs and the limits of historical materials would make restoration very difficult. Many of the materials originally used to build it no longer exist. However, with the use of 3D printing, a lot of the restoration work can be conducted at a much lower cost while maintaining authenticity and precision.
This has sparked ideas to utilize 3D printing for Notre Dame’s restoration. Dutch company Concr3de conducted a test print of one of Notre Dame’s gargoyles using a mixture of limestone and ash to stay as close to the original materials as possible. Kansas City company Dimensional Innovations proposed printing the entire iconic 300-foot spire. Now that full homes are 3D printable, it is not out of the question that larger scale components could be similarly printed as well.
The Benefits of Using 3D Printing in Restoration
3D printing technology presents many solutions to restoring historic structures, buildings and monuments. The ability to precisely 3D scan any component of a building is a game changer when it comes to saving time and energy in recreating important pieces. Compared to crafting these pieces by hand, 3D printing can be a much more efficient process. 3D printed molds can be extremely high quality while producing less waste than other technologies, allowing more creativity and leeway than precast concrete.
Find out how you can utilize 3D printing to build your ideal architectural styles and influences without sacrificing cost.