Printable futures - Architecture - Domus
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Printable futures

With the KamerMaker — a movable 3D printer pavilion — and a proactive approach, DUS architects seek to push the boundaries of this technology: in a co-creation process involving the community and multiple stakeholders, they propose 3D-printing an Amsterdam canal house, room by room.

 

Architecture / Vera Sacchetti

This article was originally published in Domus 968 / April 2013

The KamerMaker is a shiny silver contraption that sits on the side of a road in North Amsterdam, a few hundred metres from the Central Station and the Ij. A perforated, mirrored, six-metre-high industrial container tilted on its side, it resembles a monolith from outer space, or a menhir from a forgotten age, rooted to the ground since time immemorial. A few plastic helixes hang from its sides, standing still in this particularly grey morning. It is March 2013, and the KamerMaker seems to be waiting.

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Top: The Northern Canal Belt project, which begins with the construction of the first 3D-printed house, aims to revitalize a series of unused canals in North Amsterdam. The initiative coincides with the city’s celebrations for the 400th anniversary of its canals. Photo by DUS Architects. Above: The KamerMaker stands in front of the architects’ studio. Photo by Raoul Kramer

Inside the mirrored volume, an XYZ  gantry, a material extruder and a few white plastic tidbits hint at the KamerMaker’s true purpose. Here is the self-proclaimed “world’s first movable 3D-printer pavilion”, which allows the printing of small interiors of up to 2.2 x 2.2 x 3.5 metres. The outcome of an initiative by Dutch practice DUS architects, the KamerMaker (or “RoomBuilder”) is the physical conclusion of a series of considerations undertaken by the studio on the future of the architectural profession at the dawn of the Third Industrial Revolution.

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Built inside a repurposed industrial container, the KamerMaker’s mirrored walls reflect its large XYZ gantry, which can print objects of up to 2.2 x 2.2 x 3.5 m. Photo by Raoul Kramer

The project comes at a particularly fertile moment in DUS’s career. Since its foundation in 2004, DUS has worked along two parallel tracks: long-term urban renewal projects with housing corporations in The Netherlands, most notably at Nieuwegein, in the largest communal housing neighbourhood in the country; and small, ephemeral projects and installations, which have nourished a more immediate — and architectural — need to build and actively intervene in the surrounding environment.

Their 2009 Gecekondu Summerhouse Hotel was an ephemeral 300-sandbag structure that travelled to several locations offering “free lodging in exchange for cultural contribution”. From children’s birthday parties to one-day exhibitions, the Gecekondu Summerhouse Hotel served as a gathering space and an open platform for events—with a frequently updated website as a companion to the physical structure, effectively linking the space’s physical and virtual dimensions. The project attracted the attention of the Architectuurcentrum Amsterdam, and was later deemed the “best architecture project of 2009” by the NRC Handelsblad’s Tracy Metz.

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The printer was recently fitted with a new extruder, allowing it to print components with even greater precision. Photo by Raoul Kramer

By 2011, the studio had established its reputation as a maker of ephemeral constructions that activated public space, and its projects grew in ambition and complexity to generate specific programming and a series of parallel events alongside the creation of physical space. “These temporary installations correlated more and more with the larger projects that we do,” says dus partner and co-founder Hedwig Heinsman, explaining that the year also marked the beginning of a new workspace, the Open Coop, whose front yard currently hosts the KamerMaker.

Located on a site formerly belonging to Shell in North Amsterdam — 20 hectares of buildings that were partially demolished in anticipation of new construction which never materialised after the onset of the economic crisis, and currently one of the city’s most dilapidated neighbourhoods — the Open Coop is a collaboration between dus and social engineers Partizan Publik, an open studio where cooks, artists, data analysts and politicians share space with architects and engineers. Here, walls have been torn down, forcing collaboration and interaction between different disciplines.

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The KamerMaker — which is accompanied by a frequently updated website featuring all the project information — offers the possibility to experiment with diverse materials. Photo by Hans Vermeulen

“As an architect you design the backdrop of society, so you should be involved in it,” says Heinsman, who points out that the idea is to enhance the value of the space. “In this new way of working you have to hand in quite a bit, but you get a lot in return.”

It was in this collaborative context that, in the fall of 2012, the KamerMaker was born. The inauguration of the structure coincided with the city’s innovation and creativity festival PICNIC, and launched the question: what if we 3D-print our own house? “We were already fascinated by 3D printing,” says Heinsman, “and liked this idea of actually having a pavilion that can move around, react to its surroundings and produce something new.” But instead of tracking down investors to kick-start the project, DUS offered a more proactive approach, taking the first steps on their own and waiting for the reactions — which were overwhelmingly positive.

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DUS has printed with polypropylene, PLA bioplastics based on corn and woodchips, and in Groningen they are developing their own bioplastic based on potato starch. Photo by DUS Architects

Since last fall, DUS has significantly raised the stakes. Soon the KamerMaker will be moved to the other side of the canal that borders the Open Coop, where a construction site will come to life, and the KamerMaker will print “the house of the 21st century”, a fully 3D-printed structure shaped like an Amsterdam canal house. This formal dimension seeks to evoke the local context and enhance the value of the northern area of the city — as part of a larger project titled The Northern Canal Belt — while advocating a specific, one-off type of ornamentation that, according to DUS, has been lost in the age of mass production.
The studio has made use of their now solid relations with diverse partners, from the municipality to construction companies, and is taking the first steps into what may potentially become the synthesis of all the work they have developed so far, creating an experimental research site where multiple stakeholders — including sponsors and community members — are invited to intervene in a co-creation process, where progress is measured and evaluated step by step.

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Founded in 2004, DUS architects — Hans Vermeulen, Martine de Wit and Hedwig Heinsman — has always worked in different fields, from complex long-term projects to ephemeral low-cost DIY interventions. Photo by Raoul Kramer

In May, DUS hope to launch what they call a “construction site 2.0”, an event and education space where every print that comes out of the KamerMaker will be exhibited, celebrated and commented upon. The first built elements — to be completed by the end of the year — will be a lavishly ornamented facade and the first of the house’s 12 spaces, the Welcoming Room. Heinsman points out how “the rooms are metaphors for research”, focusing on more practical concerns regarding the limits of 3D printing and material recycling, as well as larger issues such as energy consumption and policy-making.

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Programme and research themes per room within the canal house. 1 - Welcoming Room; 2 - KamerMaker; 3 - Workshop; 4 - Global Room; 5 - Soft Room; 6 - Cook Room; 7 - Recycle Room; 8 - Fitting Room; 9 - Temporary Room; 10 - Construction Room; 11 - Policy Room; 12 - Energy Room

For now, DUS are extensively printing facades and components on a Ultimaker at the scale of 1:20, testing durability, ornamentation and structural issues. Inside one of the meeting rooms, a desk is filled with tiny white polypropylene experiments, cube- and rhombus-filled micro facades. Were it not for the small 3D printer whizzing in the background, this could be an artisanal workshop of a century ago. “It’s just the beginning,” declares Heinsman. “We are laymen, and we are learning by doing.” Vera Sacchetti (@verasacchetti), design writer and critic

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The first rose window of the canal house. Photo by Hans Vermeulen