Swedish architects use 3D printing technology to develop new ‘Meristem Wall’

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The architecture sector has once again combined functionality and aesthetics with the 3D printing of a new innovative wall thanks to the additive manufacturing technology developed by Voxeljet.

Designed by Swedish architects David Andreen and Ana Goidea, the Meristem wall is a 1.25 x 2.1 x 0.7m structure that incorporates several functional features designed to demonstrate the power of additive manufacturing. This includes piping for electrical wiring and water flow, a complex ventilation network, and a computer-optimized surface structure that allows the wall to serve as an urban wildlife habitat.

Ana Goidea explains: “The possibility of creating complex and unique shapes and geometries with technologies such as 3D printing opens up a whole new realm of aesthetic, efficient and incredibly functional architecture. And that’s what we want to show with the Meristem Wall.“

The 3D printed meristem wall. Photo via David Andreen and Ana Goidea.

A myriad of 3D printed features

It’s no secret that the design freedom afforded by 3D printing allows the technology to create an unlimited number of abstract geometries. In architecture, this translates into the ability to produce building envelopes that passively exploit local microclimates by storing heat and moisture, driving airflows through convection, and other mechanisms.

So what makes the Meristem Wall so special? In addition to being fully capable of supporting its own weight (and more), the structure incorporates electrical and light fixtures, PEX tubing water lines, windows, and even an integrated rainwater runoff system.

Additionally, the wall features air filtration functionality, an interior fabric surface and a comprehensive distributed ventilation system that controls heat storage and internal humidity levels, all without any moving parts.

Two years of preparation

Ana and David have spent the past two years developing the Meristem Wall. Much of the design work was conducted at Lund University’s Biodigital Matter Laboratory and relies on a series of generative design algorithms developed by the architects themselves.

Since the large dimensions of the wall were far too large for most additive manufacturing systems, the duo finally opted for Voxeljet’s VX4000 3D printer, which offers a build volume of 4 x 2 x 1 m. The large format binder jetting system is sand compatible and well suited for 3D printing mold and core applications.

Tobias Gruen, Product Manager at Voxeljet, adds: “The main challenge for us was the high degree of complexity of the internal structures and thin tubes. Since we are printing in a bed of sand, once the printing process is complete we need to remove all unprinted sand from the bonded structures. So when we print structures with cavities, it means that they are always filled with unprinted sand.

To reduce risk in the post-processing workflow, the wall was broken down and 3D printed into 21 individual pieces, making it easier to unbox the parts. The architects then brought in Sandhelden, an Augsburg-based sand treatment company, to help infiltrate the rooms with epoxy resin for added strength.

Laurens Faure, CEO of Sandhelden, said: “It took us about three days to completely cover the wall with epoxy resin, but in the end we can say that we are very satisfied with the end result. While concrete 3D printing is ideal for classic facades, as soon as slightly more complex geometries or details come into play, concrete printing no longer presents itself as a good match. This is exactly where we see the strength of binder jetting.

Once printed, the pieces were transported to Venice and assembled into the final structure of the Meristem wall. Ana and David exhibited their project at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale until November 21.

The combination of aesthetics and functionality is a recurring theme in the construction 3D printing industry. Earlier this year, construction 3D printing company Branch Technology completed a similar project with the 3D printing of a building facade for a financial institution in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Pedestrians passing the new Southside branch of the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (TVFCU) will see TVFCU’s signature brand incorporated into the design of the building itself, and it will direct customers to the entrance.

More recently, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) and furniture manufacturer Tecno also presented their new “ALIS pod” office concept in the Giardini of Venice, featuring bespoke plant-based 3D printed flooring. Developed by Amsterdam-based architectural 3D printing company Aectual, the distinct base of the pod is a carbon-neutral terrazzo floor.

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Featured image shows the 3D printed Meristem wall. Photo via David Andreen and Ana Goidea.

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