3D Printer to Design Cities of Future

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Among the first uses of 3D printing — or as it’s often called, additive manufacturing — was rapid prototyping, building a full-scale model of a part that would later be cast in metal. Now, using high-end software and an industrial-size 3D printer, architects and urban planners can help design a city.

San Francisco urban design firm Steelblue unveiled on Wednesday a 1:1,250 scale model of 115 blocks of San Francisco that the design firm had built for real-estate developer Tishman Speyer. The developer has several large projects underway all around the city, according to a report at CNET, and the model allows it to show off its projects and the effect the new buildings are having on the city.

The model was constructed at the San Francisco workshop of Autodesk Inc. (NASDAQ: ADSK) using two Objet Connex 500 3D printers from Stratasys Ltd. (NASDAQ: SSYS). The model took over two months to build and cost less than $20,000 for materials. Steelblue’s president said that constructing such a model by hand at this scale would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Sheer visual impact aside, using the 3D-printed model gives architects and planners a way of moving pieces around and seeing the effects that a change makes on the surrounding city.

Some people are not satisfied with just designing a city, they want to build one too. Or at least parts of one. A Dutch firm has started building a canal house in Amsterdam that will be built entirely by a custom-made 3D printer. A Slovenian firm is offering a very large device that prints a house in concrete.

Whether actually printing a house ever becomes a common practice is probably best left to crystal-ball gazers. There is no question though that as a design tool, even for something as large as a city, 3D printing has a bright future.

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