Bringing buildings to life

Turning a two-dimensional drawing of a building on a piece of paper into a three-dimensional object is easier than one would imagine. Lynton Dent, business development engineer at Rapid 3D, explains how it's done, as well as why you'd want to.


Johannesburg, 28 Mar 2019
Read time 5min 00sec
Lynton Dent, business development engineer, Rapid 3D.
Lynton Dent, business development engineer, Rapid 3D.

Turning a two-dimensional drawing of a building on a piece of paper into a three-dimensional object is easier than one would imagine. Lynton Dent, business development engineer at Rapid 3D, explains how it's done, as well as why you'd want to.

The ability to take a two-dimensional flat image and create a three-dimensional model from it presents the opportunity to tell a story, to bring a design to life in the form of a 3D print. Lynton Dent, business development engineer at Rapid 3D, explains: "It's a transition from printing out the architect's initial concept on paper; the next logical step is to graduate from a two-dimensional image to a three-dimensional model that brings the design to life. It's all about graphically and physically telling a story to illustrate your vision to the customer; you're basically selling a concept."

Aziza Mahomed, Business Development Manager for Epson at Kemtek Imaging Systems, agrees: "Large-format CAD printers provide an easy and efficient way for architects to produce two-dimensional drawings in-house. In an increasingly competitive market, architects need to be able to produce high-resolution prints that include renderings, site plans or elevations in order to clearly communicate their technical and creative vision to the customer."

The next step, traditionally, has been to physically build a three-dimensional model of the proposed structure. However, this process is time-consuming and expensive, and hasn't always been able to accommodate the increasingly complex nature of today's architectural designs. Enter 3D manufacturing, with the ability to recreate a wide variety of shapes, structures, materials, etc, at the press of a button.

From design to printed model

The ability to produce 3D printed models of architectural drawings allows engineers and architects to quickly and cost-effectively create scale models of their designs.

In very simple terms, 3D printed items are manufactured by either scanning the item to be replicated or creating a design in CAD. "However," cautions Dent, "If you did a 3D design on a CAD package, you could convert that to a 3D print. But, if you did your architectural design in a 2D format, you can't covert it."

Some skill is required to render an architectural design suitable for 3D printing, because some areas of the structure might need to be thickened so they can be 3D manufactured. He clarifies: "If you scale down an architectural model, something that is in 100mm in real life will become 1mm, which you can't print on a 3D printer, so you might need to thicken the model in certain areas to make it printable. This is one of the larger cost components of 3D manufacturing, as thickening the design to make the resulting model viable has to be done manually."

Why create a 3D printed model?

The aim is to tell a story, says Dent. "It enables architects or engineers to present their design to an outside party in two different formats, starting with a two-dimensional printout, supported with a three-dimensional model of the proposed structure. So, if they're tendering for a bid, for example, they can illustrate what they have in mind very clearly."

This technology enables architects to create a working, realistic scale model of a complex structure.

However, a 3D printed model doesn't replace the handmade model of old, and while it may be faster to 3D print, it's not necessarily cheaper. "It's just not economically viable to print an entire structure because of the size, in terms of material consumed, and time required to change the design and print something that large. However, it's a perfect solution for intricate designs or moving parts that you want to highlight to prospective investors," says Dent. The end result is a hybrid model that incorporates conventional architectural model-building techniques and 3D print, a new tool in the toolbox for the three-dimensional model builder.

Hybrid models work best

A hybrid model gives the architect the freedom to convert the idea s/he has on paper into a realistic three-dimensional model. "They have far more freedom than they'd have using conventional model building techniques. Modern architecture is quite organic and it's difficult to recreate organic design using conventional techniques of model building, while 3D printing allows them more freedom. They can bring their concept to life and make it a tangible thing the customer can see instead of having to interpret it off a 2D image or rendering."

One of the big advantages of being able to incorporate 3D manufactured elements is that it's expensive to recreate complexity when making an architectural model, while with 3D printing, it costs no more to render complexity. "We're seeing growing adoption of 3D manufacturing for complex models, but we're also seeing growth in the adoption of hybrid models," says Dent.

Benefits of 3D printing:

* It eliminates ambiguity about complex or abstract design elements and materials.
* It shows potential investors exactly what they'll be investing in.
* There's no need to wait for someone to make a model by hand.
* Implementing design changes is quick.
* It easily recreates textures, finishes and colours.

Dent concludes: "No amount of drawings or digital 3D designs can replicate the real-life perspective that a 3D manufactured scale model can provide. It also enables architects to try new ways of designing because they can quickly 3D print their ideas, and change them if they need to."

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Rapid 3D is a subsidiary of Kemtek Imaging Solutions.