Freeform Construction

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= Freeform Construction is about ‘printing’ buildings, as if you were printing this page. It’s about combining the whole design, construction and maintenance process into a seamless operation to produce structures and components


Emerged from the Rapid Manufacturing Research Group at Loughborough University in the UK.


" Freeform Construction combines high levels of automation and computer control with the design and construction process. It is based on an existing technology known as Rapid Manufacturing, which has revolutionised the way consumer goods are manufactured, by literally ‘printing’ three dimensional (3D) objects, designed on a computer, in much the same way a printer produces two dimensional (2D) images on a piece of paper. So how does 2D printing become 3D? Imagine printing this page, except that a single piece of paper remains in the printer to catch the ink, and the printer head keeps printing the same words on a page over and over - gradually you will see the letters build up into 3D columns. Now scale that printer up and put building materials through the printer head and you can start to see where we’re going.

Now I’ve just described a 3D or ‘layer by layer’ printing method and, though revolutionary for the consumer goods industry, it’s not much different from existing ‘layer by layer’ construction methods. Where it gets interesting though is that construction is a very manual operation and so building a complex or exotic building takes more labour, time and hence costs more money, whereas printing building materials doesn’t. Go back to our paper printer analogy; if we were printing a square onto a stationary piece of paper, over and over, you would gradually build up a box shape, as each layer of ink sits on top of its predecessor. If, however, we had to put the ink down manually with a pen (as in construction) then it would be easier to draw and build up a square shape than something curved or with a lot of detail on it. But consider the print head; it’s not bothered if you’re printing a square, a curve or a really complex shape. In fact it takes exactly the same time and cost to print something simple as it does something really complicated.

Freeform Construction allows us to print really complicated buildings, or parts of buildings, at no extra cost. In its simplest form, you will be able to build literally any design or shape of building and at any scale. You can generate and tailor the design to match the environmental conditions you find around you. You can put any texture or feature on or within the design by digitally scanning things you find around you and you can completely customise the building for your own, or anyone else’s, requirements. You can print the fire place, the shelves, the cupboards or architrave detail and, if you change your mind, you can take your belongings out and grind it up and print a new house. Are you ready for fashion housing and designer structures with corporate or brand designs you purchase off the internet?

But that’s not the clever bit. It’s the stuff behind the walls that’s going to make the difference. As each layer is printed you can create all the channels and ducts required for ventilation and air conditioning. You can print in optical fibre networks and you can print in really complex structures digitally scanned from respiratory and circulatory systems to serve the same function in our own dwellings. These are the self-regulating and adaptive structures we find in nature that we can print into the walls to make buildings which do not use electricity to regulate our environment. These structures will allow us to rapidly deploy printing machines into hostile, emergency or arid environments as well as to other planets." (

More Information

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