A 3D-printed bridge demonstrates to the world that the future of 3D printing is already with us now.
Alexandre Dubor is an architect and researcher combining new technologies in an attempt to improve how we build and live in our cities. He holds a Masters degree in Architecture & Engineering from EAVT & ENPC in France, and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architecture from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) in Spain, with a specialization in robotic fabrication and large-scale additive manufacturing.
Since 2012, he has been working at IAAC as an expert in digital and robotic fabrication. He is now leading the Open Thesis Fabrication program as well as the Master in Robotic and Advanced Construction. Together with IAAC staff, students and industrial partners, he is investigating how new advances in material, digital fabrication and computational design could lead to a better construction ecosystem, towards a more efficient, affordable, sustainable and personalized built environment.
In this Q&A, Dubor discusses the future of 3D printing & robotics, and the shift currently taking place in the construction industry.
What are the challenges faced by the construction sector today?
Alexandre Dubor: Today’s construction sector is facing an ever-growing need for radical change and reinvention. Growing cities are challenging the sector to find ways to build more, faster and at a lower cost. While the limited resources on the planet call for a more sustainable way of building, inhabiting and reusing our constructions.
At the same time, the construction sector has not yet taken advantage of the digital revolution which is currently happening in other manufacturing sectors, such as in the automobile and aerospace engineering.
Robotics, 3D printing and AI are all making the future of construction, increasing productivity and reducing the costs. These technologies also open new (computational) design opportunities for optimizing the performance of buildings by reducing CO2 emissions and energy demand.
What retains the construction sector to embrace new technologies?
AD: The Economist stated in July 2017, builders’ productivity has stagnated or even decreased over the past 50 years. Today, machinery and technology are evolving towards a smarter digital version embracing the complexity of the construction industry. 3D scanning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, advanced materials, computational design and building information modeling (BIM) management are bringing improvements which haven’t been seen in the sector for decades, allowing improvements in flexibility, integration, speed and precision.
Ultimately, those technologies promise the reduce cost and ecological impact while increasing design opportunities and mass customization possibilities. Once those digital technologies are proven to be efficient, their adoption will be a competitive need.
When will we see this change happen?
AD: The change is happening faster than we think. Only last year, we inaugurated a 3D printed bridge in a public park in Madrid (Alcobendas). The project was the fruit of a collaboration between ACCIONA and IAAC in exploring the potential of powder-based 3D printing for the construction sector and it marked a milestone in the industry as being the first civil engineered construction made using such promising technology.