The following is a guest blog written by an SHP architecture co-op, Joshua Walker.

As a current architecture student, I am most impressed with SHP’s focus on using the latest in technology to provide greater client value. The firm understands that constant learning and development can only enhance the design process and provide greater project benefit.  This commitment is evident in SHP’s use of a still emerging technology in the architectural profession: three-dimensional (3D) printing.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing is a newer technology that takes a three-dimensional digital model and builds it by extruding extremely thin layers of filament—normally plastic or composite blends—on top of each other. The process allows for extreme precision and customization, while allowing designers to spend their time designing and experimenting rather than cutting and gluing model materials.

Why do we model?

Physical modeling has been a fundamental part of the architectural profession for centuries because it allows designers to quickly and efficiently test ideas, discover opportunities, and communicate their results to clients. The practice is still used to train architecture students, but—with the onset of digital modeling—many firms have found that the older glue-and-chipboard practices become redundant or inefficient in the design process.

As we’ve transitioned to an increasingly computerized workflow, we’ve discovered that despite the efficiencies of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and computer modeling, there’s still a real need for the physical model in the architectural profession. Renderings and floor plans are useful tools, but buildings are three-dimensional objects. Physical models give a sense of perspective and an intuitive understanding of a project that benefits designers and clients.

We’ve found physical models especially useful in several stages of the design process:

  • Site analysis. Placing a building properly is crucial to the success of a project. Whether an addition to an existing building, a new free-standing structure, or an expansion of an existing campus, 3D site models provide an understanding of the relationship between structures and services that can be lost in digital modeling.
  • Conceptual Design. Testing options is the how architects find optimal aesthetic and functional solutions for the many challenges of the design process. Physical modeling provides the opportunity to compare options side-by-side, monitor the progression of ideas, and evaluate options in three dimensions.
  • Design Communication. While two-dimensional graphics are beautiful and informative in their own right, three-dimensional models provide holistic, tactile understanding of a project. This makes understanding design options and proposals faster and easier for clients, resulting in more thorough feedback.
  • Presentation and Promotion. Many projects require the support of individuals outside the client and project team before construction begins, and physical models are an excellent way to display the benefits of a design and generate support for any given project.

So why 3D Printing?

While digital design has supplanted the design-by-physical-model process, 3D printing enables SHP to integrate the benefits of physical modeling with our digital workflow. By using digital models to quickly produce physical ones, SHP can efficiently incorporate the physical component in a way that is relevant in this increasingly digital world.

SHP is already producing 3D-printed models for clients and internal use.  As new opportunities of this technology are discovered, the firm continues to look for ways to improve workflow and client value. It’s a new frontier of design technology, and SHP is proud to be at the leading edge of innovation.