Nature or Nurture: A 3D Printed Space

Nature or Nurture: A 3D Printed Space

Purdue University
610 Purdue Mall
West Lafayette, IN 47907

Laura Drake, TJ Kim and Steve Visser

Team Members
McKayla Barber
Hanna Ferrill
Zack Hellman
Marshall Ma
David Marchese
Andrew Hu

Nature or Nurture: A 3D Printed Space

CONNECT 2017 - Purdue CONNECT 2017 - Purdue
(2422 KB),  22-Aug-2017 04:05 PM

Initial Proposal

The theme of our proposed space is the juncture of technology and nature. The space will consist of an organic lattice made of branches and twigs that have been scanned, and then connected with 3-D printed joints to define the space. Integrated into the space will be benches and lamps to create an inviting atmosphere for relaxation and interaction.

The use of scanning technology will allow each end of the branches to be matched perfectly with a joint that is 3-D printed. Triangulation will be used to create a rigid lattice that is lightweight and strong, reaching high into the open space of the exhibition hall.

Specifically, the upper portion of the structure will be assembled first and then lower portions added to lift the top above the space it will define. Our early sketches show joints with aluminum pipes interconnected with regular joints.

We refined the concept to be more organic and natural, because we realized that the 3-D printing allowed each joint to be customized exactly as needed. Happily, we saw that this would lead to a less regular and more interesting interaction of the branches with the custom joints. See the sketch below. As can be seen the structure can look much more organically grown and less mechanical. Our plan is to prebuild the basic structure, but then to bring a stack of additional branches and a dozen 3-D printers to build and explore additional elements in response to the show. We also plan to have those attending the SOFA Exhibition to join in the creative process and help form portions of the exhibition. The printers will be building parts throughout the show and the final-result will be unknown when we start.

The branches will be treated with the traditional flame preserving process called, shou-sugi-ban. This will be done at Purdue ahead of time to finish the wood creating a beautiful dark wood finish with branches of lightweight woods. We look forward to creating this space with Nature and Nurture.  

Design Process

Nature: The design process for the exhibition space will involve a variety of organic iterations as well as technological iterations. The next step in the process is to collect branches and twigs to be used in the design and construction of the exhibition space. This will be an opportunity to go into the natural forest and collect the need materials. Since the exhibition is only months away, dead branches and twigs will be collected so that we don't have to wait for the wood to dry out, or kiln dry it. Instead, we will try to find wood that has naturally air-dried most of the way.

Nurture: This material first approach is not typical of the industrial design process. However, once the materials are collected a nurturing approach will be taken, specifically, scanning and cataloging the branches. Then these branches can then be digitally assembled quickly and easily in a great variety of structures with 3-D CAD software. The scanned elements will then be 3D printed to scale with simple joint structures. 

Nature: A more natural and intuitive process will be used next. The pieces with be hand assembled, adapted and re-organized iteratively until a final concept is accepted.

Nurture: Several of the joint elements will be 3-D printed in full size and then tested for stress until they break to establish the best method, wall thickness and infill rate to use for the joint elements. Once an acceptable method is established, the individual joints will be refined in CAD and will be printed and readied for assembly. 


The basic structure of the space will be created before the exhibition begins.  However, the space will include additional branches to expand and add to the space as the SOFA exhibit is going on.  It is our dream to encourage attendees to play with the elements in sketching, scale models and quick full size explorations.  Then we will select the best of these explorations and add them to the space, having it grow with the 3D printers pumping out joints overnight so that each day the space can grow organically during the event.


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