3D printing: friend or foe?

The benefits and pitfalls of 3D printing technology was the subject of debate between Ammar Kalo, professor and director of CAAD Labs at the American University of Sharjah, and design director Bruno Guelaff. One of the major questions challenged whether the technology takes away from the artistry of architecture and design.

“I think 3D printing is going to change the fabric of life but what I’m worried about is how much it’s going to change,” said Guelaff.

He went on to explain how, in the case of the technology advancing, everyone will use the technology in the form of a replicator. That will then result in the loss of going outside and shopping for furniture which can simply be printed.
“Maybe that’s a good thing and we will become less materialistic and think ‘that’s just a chair’ but I am just thinking of the future and wondering ‘are we going to look at objects the same way?’ Is it going to bring out the same emotion?”

Guelaff also outlined the danger of excessive printing where design will transform into “digital garbage”.

Kalo, on the other hand, highlighted the benefits of using 3D printing as prototyping for designers and architects.

“The way I view 3D printing in the academic field is that as designers and architects we can use them as representational models in presentations and also print prototypes of things that we are building,” he explained.

“Seeing it as a prototyping tool is very valuable. The way I would like to see it is a tool that enables fast and innovative prototyping and enables designers to make faster decisions.”

“As a designer there is nothing that comes between you and the manufacturer- you are the manufacturer. But at the same time you have to look at the ramifications before you start building cities with large 3D printers,” Guelaff argued.

The topic then moved on to 3D printing the urban landscape: “It is interesting to look at how 3D printing transitioned into the construction industry. So far the construction industry in general has been behind in terms of technology and it is only now that we are trying to experiment with new technology. So it is very exciting to see the design field as a whole working on multiple scales to tease out what the possibilities are and not get stuck in the same area of research,” Kalo explained.

He added: “It is natural to question technology this way. We always have a tendency to see the extent is of what the machine can do so we try to apply everything around this. And we try everything with that technology and it goes back to the point about printing your furniture and your clothes, and not leaving the house.

“Our tendency is to jump into that and see what we can do but as you start getting familiar with the technology and start seeing the pros and cons and how that affects society and the way people interact with such a technology, is when you take a step back and really evaluate the strengths of it.”