March 12, 2014

We have a Makerbot at SRG. It is a pretty awesome little robot, moody sometimes, but definitely a beloved member of the team. To fill you all in, a Makerbot is a desktop 3D printer. It creates physical models, real objects, from digital models. We buy spools of PLA (a biodegradable, corn based plastic) filament, which the 'bot pushes through a heated extruder. The extruder assembly navigates itself on 2 axis, expelling filament and generating layers upon layers of PLA as the build plate lowers. In no time at all you have a physical, 3D model. It is pretty cool. I have printed replacement parts for the Makerbot on the Makerbot. People have even printed prosthetic limbs with them.

At SRG, we mostly print site models or context buildings for site models. They turn out really great and they are a very useful tool in communicating with our clients. I am curious, however, about how we can use the Makerbot to grow as designers and as a solid architecture firm. How can the 'bot become a member of our design team to advance our design? It is a discussion I've had with a lot of people recently, and it's not only about our Makerbot but about design technology in general. How could a firm like SRG use these tools as an iterative part of our process, as opposed to simply using the technology to showcase ourselves as a technologically innovative firm? And how can we use the technology to promote tactility in our design process?

Recently, we saw an example of how the Makerbot could help push our designs forward. SRG has been working in collaboration with Behnisch Architekten, an internationally recognized design firm, on the Portland State University School of Business Administration renovation and expansion. Behnisch was so intrigued by our little robot that they bought one of their own. Last week, Behnisch brought five iterations of schematic design concepts to a client meeting at PSU that were a combination of hand-built and 3D printed models. The conceptual models illustrated to the client the in-depth nature of Behnisch's iterative design process. Essentially, Behnisch was using the Makerbot as a production tool so they could spend more time on what they are great at: designing buildings.

I think SRG could also integrate design technology and more model building into our design process. Designing buildings is what SRG does, after all, and we are great at it. Using the tools available to us will only make our design process stronger, and our buildings even better.