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Print This: UC Berkeley Uses 3D Printers to Construct a First-Ever Cement Pavilion

March 6, 2015

Perhaps you remember the day when printers, requiring only lowly paper and toner, simply produced documents. Now we’re well on our way into the Jetsonian age: today 3D printers, supplied with a sophisticated cement, can produce a house.

That, in fact, is precisely what’s happening at UC Berkeley today as a team headed by associate professor of architecture Ronald Rael unveils his architectural creation “Bloom”—billed as the first and largest powder-based 3D-printed cement structure to date.

Constructed of 840 blocks, all 3D printed using a new iron oxide-free Portland cement polymer developed by Rael, the “Bloom” pavilion has a 12-feet-by-12-feet footprint and stands 9 feet tall. A botanical motif reminiscent of a Thai pattern is interwoven into the airy, undulating structure of the design.

It took a year for Rael to create the structure with the aid of four graduate students from Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design: Kent Wilson, Alex Schofield, Sofia Anastassiou and Yina Dong. They used 11 3D Systems printers to produce the bricks, each uniquely numbered and designed.

“Bloom” is but the latest in a series of groundbreaking 3D print projects to pursue futuristic yet primitive versions of cars, houses and even apartment buildings. Although 3D printing technology is still a long way from turning out affordable drivable cars and livable houses for ordinary consumers, such projects represent significant steps forward. “Bloom,” for example, is one of the few 3D printing projects to use cement-based material. While others create rougher components by squeezing wet cement through nozzles, the Berkeley project—using the mix of polymers, cement and fibers created by Rael—is able to produce more precise blocks, and thus a more delicate, appealing building.

Today’s unveiling will serve as the finale for the fifth annual Berkeley Circus, a celebration of the work of the College of Environmental Design.

After its debut, “Bloom” will be on display for several months in Thailand, home of the Siam Cement Group that provided the special cement. (A startup co-founded by Rael, Emerging Objects, also furnished materials and support.)

UC Berkeley NewsCenter photographer Tom Levy created a slideshow to illustrate he construction, as does this time-lapsed video:

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