3D Printed Architectural Model

Recently i used a 3d printing service for the first time. The firm i previously work for had used the technology but it was something that we didn’t really see a major benefit in doing so. We always planned for outsourcing physical models to professional model makers. This seemed the lowest risk and worked ok.

In the recent move to running my own practice i had had to evolve my skills into all sorts of areas. With time always escaping me, the decision was made to explore the technology and see what it can do for me.

The project it was piloted on is a housing project in Sweden called Skummeslövs Ängar.  I wanted a 1:250 model which is kind of in-between being detailed and concept.


As i model everything in ArchiCAD, i though that it would be a simple process to create a 3d printed model. I wasn’t as naive as thinking you hit print instead of render but it was close….


My first port of call was to do a bit of googling to find a good company to use. I found Hobs studio were in London so jumped on the bike and paid them a visit I explained to them what i was thinking and listened to see what they had to offer.
They were actually really great, they showed me around and came across the right side of techie. What came out of the meeting was a basic understanding of the two different types of processes available and the models that can be created.

The first process i was familiar with the aesthetic. It relays on a layering system using fine powder. The plan shape builds up through 1mm printed layers. The result of this model is somewhat of an acquired taste as its a little rough around the edges but had quite a lot of versatility in the final aesthetic department.


The second process i was shown involves a clear liquid bath and some lasers. (Whats not to like!) The lasers solidify the area that needs it, and the model literally rises up from the liquid over time. This looks really cool and actually produces a beautiful model, however the aesthetic is only clear and smooth. This could look great for some buildings and has an excellent wow factor.

I thought a lot about the two process and weighed up the pros and cons. I had and been given a very similar price by Hobs studio as they were looking to do a promotion for the liquid model as the kit was just in. In the end  i actually decided to go for the more traditional of the methods. This was based on the scale and to not confuse people too much when they see it at the presentation we were holding.

So i was given a quote by Hobs studio for the size (a2). This was south of £2,000 but not by much. The budget we had was around that mark so we were actually quite happy to proceed.


As i mentioned earlier the modelling i do is in archicad. Although the world of BIM is everywhere these days, and it is used in many ways to make things all that more efficient, it is actually pretty useless at many of the things that a required for the design process.
I remember always working with model makers who kept on asking for 2d elevations everywhere and not even wanting a copy of the 3d file. Similarly it seems that although BIM is great for some things it produces rather crappy render geometry which needs addressing in a visualisation package. Anyway hey ho i think ArchiCAD is by far an away the best programme for design orientated Architects.
So Hobs studio wanted to see the file as they reminded me that it would require quite a lot of work by them to make the file ready for printing. The file format they require is a .STL (STereoLithography). So i looked everywhere and couldn’t find this export option in ArchiCAD 16, typical. After a little googling i did find that this is an export option for ArchiCAD 17. Luckily i actually had a copy of this. I hadn’t upgraded the project yet because 17 wasn’t supported at the time by some of the software later down the line that i need to use for the project. Its also a huge jump as a program towards online library (Open BIM) content which is a great move but one which is a little difficult to know the flip side half way through a project.


So the file was sent away and they came back pretty quick with a screen shot. I always get quite excited, (I’m not sure why?) when is see a model of mine in a new software. I guess its a novelty factor. Anyway the model looked good but one thing was immediately drawn to my attention. As the model was going to be at a scale of 1:250 (uk) the way i wanted to represent glass wasn’t achievable. What i wanted was for the glass to be removed. As this technique is a representation of solidity, creating glass is something which it can’t do. My original thoughts was to remove just the glass and leave the frames to give the illusion of transparency. The problem was however that the frames were going to be way to thin to survive the printing process. A 50mm frame at 1:250 means a size of around 0.2mm. This gave me a headache as i really didn’t want to remove the frames swell as the building would start to look rather confusing and maybe unfinished.



Hobs studio explained to me that you can colour anything on the model, and in doing so the glass, as it is printed solid, could be given a colour to define it. I was a bit wary of this. One of the reasons i hadn’t tried printed models in the past is that i haven’t seen a really good example using colour. They always seem to look a bit ‘toy town’.
The original goal was to have model neutral except for the landscape. I was hoping that the detail on the model would be enough to define elements through shadow and layering. Mixing another colour was something i really didn’t want to do.

Test print.

To make my mind up i though a simple test print would be the easiest way. Unfortunately since the model needed prep work a simple test print would involve work and if after this was done i didn’t want to go through with the model Hobbs would be out of pocket. I totally understood this so asked for some images of other projects with this colouring done.
Out of good will hobbs did print a small element out and couriered it to me. It gave me a bit of confidence with the output and confirmed that the windows did indeed need something to define them!


3DPrintModel_Test2 3DPrintModel_Test3

Final preparation.

So since the model was going to be printed with the glass solid i decided to open up as many of the glass sliding doors as possible to further give the impression that these elements are glass. I also decided to show the interior furniture, as this would not be seen through the open glass doors. This was a subtle thing but something that i had already modelled. Turning this layer on before export was no biggie.
From the start we have had a marketing # for the project we we had displayed on various images of the area. #NÄLIVETÄRSOMBÄST. I  had this already modelled in 3d letters and wanted on the model. I also wanted a title bar and project name to be printed out so i aslo modelled and added this to the file before final export.

Pre print work
Printed image
Instead of using a base colour i had been told that i could use an image and this could be printed onto the model during  production. Since i had the file within the rendering programme i though the best way to add the colour for the landscape was to render this element in plan view with all the plants, flowers and shrubs rendered. I then worked on this in photoshop and muted the colour a little. I removed the background and saved as a transparent .png file. I then sent this at the right scale to hobbs and they added this to the virtual model.


Hobs studio then worked on the file, making things fatter where required and generally making the whole model a bit more robust and defined. They also delete any unwanted material as this reduces the time and the cost.


 Final result.

It took less than a day to print the 3d model. I had decided to ask them previously to make a display case and a carry case for the trip to Sweden. This brought the cost up quite a bit but it was definitely needed.
It arrived just in time for me to quickly check the model and head off. I managed to put model into the allocated baggage for the flight and crossed my fingers that it would make it, which it did without any issues.





So the whole process was very interesting of me. New technologies always come with things they can’t do as well as older technologies and always with a list of things you wish they could do on top of this.
For me this was a good model of its time. Some things i really love like the layering of the terracing landscape and the feeling of running your finger uphill. I also love the honestly of the model. Its pretty much exactly as it it in the 3d BIM model, which is going to be exactly what gets built on site.
Im really glad i didn’t go over the top with the colours as i feel this could be an easy trap to get caught in.
I still wasn’t 100% happy with the compromise on the glass and so this is my only criticism. If only there way a way to mix the two systems together to produce a solid model that can be made transparent if required.
Im also really happy i didn’t spend a solid day cutting 2d sections and elevations and spending time explaining the contours of the landscape. Im also really happy that when i saw the model i knew it was right. So many times i have had models made and you receive it only to discover loads of things which were lost in translation. As an architect i hate this more than anything, its a bit like picking up the wrong baby from the hospital.


So i look forward to doing more models in the future and see where the technology develops.

Here is an article from 3Dprint.com that was published on Sept 22nd 2014.

Leave a comment