EDG NYC is an architecture firm that has developed a new method of digital sculpting, which they call “Modern Ornamental”, to restore a building in New York City. The process utilizes 3D printing to produce complex molds for casting concrete structures.
EDG is a New York-based architecture and engineering firm that has been using 3D printing to create intricate concrete casting models for over five years now. The result of their longwinded efforts is a process called Modern Ornamental, or as they describe it, “a new form of digital sculpture.”
This technique entails the use of widely available CAD software, such as 3DSMax and Rhino, and algorithmic modeling programs that develop renderings of large printable structures. However, rather than then creating solid 3D printed parts, which can oftentimes be expensive and take an extremely long time to print, the team instead creates a mold of the design. At first, they began prototyping complex molds for concrete using a MakerBot Replicator Z18.
When EDG heard about the impending demolition of a historic building in New York from the 1940’s, they realized that there was now a real-world use for their construction solution. And so, they began coming up with alternative ways to restore the 574 Fifth Avenue property.
The team explored a range of materials and mold thicknesses to come up with the perfect solution for restoration and maintenance of the building. They finally settled on what they believed to be the right balance of strength and efficiency, as well as material cost.
John Meyer, founder and managing partner of EDG, explained the inspiration behind the project.
“This project began with the simple goal of finding a way to salvage and restore many of the deteriorating architectural treasures in New York City, and around the world. The innate beauty and rich history of these gems were vanishing as the cost of their repair became progressively prohibitive,” he said.
Saving 574 Fifth Avenue with 3D Printed Concrete Molds
To create the concrete piece, the firm starts by 3D printing a form with a detailed pattern, along with stirrups that provide structural reinforcement. For the 574 Fifth Avenue restoration project, the 3D printing was done by VoxelJet using their industrial-grade VX1000 printer, which is designed specifically for the production medium-sized molds, cores and models.
Once printing is complete, the 3D printed plastic form is inlaid with a laser cut wire mesh. A bond breaker is also added before pouring the Sika concrete to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the mold. Finally, the firm implemented a plate connection system to ensure that attaching the cast to the facade was easy to do.
With the success of 574 Fifth Avenue, the firm now plans to continue refining and using this technique for more construction and restoration jobs.
“…we set about creating a cost effective method of reconstruction and repair. Having achieved that, we also quickly realized that the ease and accessibility of this method of construction held the potential for a truly seismic shift in the creation of building facades. Drawing inspiration from classic styles, we transformed those details into something modern and fresh,” Meyer explains.
The firm will now be working on two new projects utilizing the same method, but with a more “contemporary lens”. However, before they can begin on these projects, they hope to develop their own 3D printer to reduce lead times and outsourcing costs. So, for now, EDG is currently in the process of building a customized printer which will suit their preferred material of concrete and the large sizes needed for building facades.