The Architecture of New Design: Explore 3D Printing with Ryan Scavnicky
During the past twenty years, 3D printing has evolved from a labor-intensive process with little practical use to a thriving, sustainable industry of its own. Some believe that 3D printing has ushered in a sort of third industrial revolution, where the average citizen will be empowered to create their own energy and manufacture their own goods. Others recognize 3D printing as a powerful tool to test two dimensional designs in their three dimensional form. Unsurprisingly, architects were among the first design professionals to embrace 3D printing as a more efficient way to plan and create a real-world structure.
Ryan Scavnicky is one such architect. The Cleveland native works locally as a Junior Architect with StudioTECHNE Architects, but will soon be moving to sunny Los Angeles. He plans on spending the next few years working towards his Masters of Science in Design Theory and Pedagogy at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, while teaching a graduate course on experimental design (are you feeling like an under-achiever yet? I know I am.)
His exploration into the world of additive design began at the University of Cincinnati, which hosts a comprehensive Rapid Prototyping Center in its College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). The center was founded in 2000, and was one of the first of its kind to offer a digital modeling and industrial design program. Today, DAAP is consistently listed as one of the world’s top design schools.
I caught up with Ryan as he attempted to create some fresh mozzarella in his parents’ beautifully remolded kitchen in Cleveland Heights.
“Why did you decide to study 3D printing? It was a relatively new field of design when you first began university, correct?,” I began.
“Yes, when I began my degree it wasn’t exactly clear what value 3D printing would hold in the industry,” Ryan answered, cradling the phone as he chopped vegetables.
“I became interested in 3D printing as a designer because it’s the best way to get immediate feedback on something you’re making with a computer. To be able to hold and touch your design gives you a good idea of its physical properties. When you make it physical, you make the design ‘real’- it’s no longer just a plan, it’s the beginning of a product. A 3D model allows you to get a sense for scale, proportion, and how the design handles, depending on what you’re making.”
“So, if you were creating a cup, you’d be able to see how it felt in your hand, whether it holds water, things like that?” I asked.
“Right,” Ryan agreed. “Ideally, a designer understands the expectations their product has to fill, but sometimes, you can’t see the flaws until the first prototype has been fabricated. 3D printing is a cheaper, faster way to create that model, which makes the design process faster and less expensive overall. Working out the kinks in a design before you present to a client or hand it off to a wider team- it makes a significant difference.”
“It’s fair to say this new technology has changed the way you do business, then?” I asked.
“Oh yes,” Ryan answered. “For our architecture firm, it’s changed how we collaborate on a design. Now, we can mock up ideas for our project so everyone in the office can see it and throw around suggestions or criticisms. Even if we aren’t looking for extra input, we’ll typically use the printer for fun things that engage the office and make them aware of the project. For example, when we were doing a bridge design, I made everyone a small bridge.”
“More importantly, it’s completely changed communication with the client,” he continued. “Making models is a technique that architects have used to communicate with clients for a long time, but now, everything is more tactile. Seeing a 3D model excites them; it’s engaging. It gives them the ability to point out features they like and ones they might want to revisit, and it gives architecture as a whole unlimited channels to further express a client’s goals.”
“It’s also opened up new venues for me in business. “I have a line of jewelry I’m creating that wouldn’t be possible without my printer.”
“That’s an excellent tie-in to my next question,” I stated. “3D printers are far less expensive and less difficult to use than they were ten or even five years ago. This technology is accessible to anyone. How do you think consumers having access has changed the printing landscape?”
“I’m giving up on the mozzarella,” he stated. “Consumers having access…..well, I’d have to say that as with almost any technology, the more people with access to it, the more ideas you’ll be able to find. You have to purchase a printer and your media of choice, but it’s so much more affordable than it used to be. The more robust a group of people who use a tool, the more unbelievable things can be made that the industry couldn’t produce before. We’re harnessing a collective imagination.”
“How many different substrates have you worked with?” I wondered.
“I’ve used lot’s of different types of media,” Ryan answered. “Ceramic, plastics, powders — ”
“Powders??” I asked incredulously. “How do you print with powders??”
“Oh, it’s the coolest thing! Z corporation makes a powder-bed printer which is basically a bunch of powder held together with a liquid binder. The inkjet moves across the bed and builds the shape in layers with the glue, which is covered in the powder to help it set. When you’re done, you reveal your design by brushing away the powder, kind of like a paleontologist would with dinosaur bones.”
“That’s so bizarre, honestly, I would have never thought you could print with a powder,” I said. “What’s your favorite?”
“Definitely resin,” he said. “I actually have my own resin 3D printer now. I actually bought an original Formlabs Form 1+ when it was still on Kickstarter! The finish is so nice, and the quality is amazing. It boggles my mind how clean a design comes out. I print something and I can’t even see lines. Carbon and plastic are pretty fun too, but the resolution isn’t that great.”
“What about living tissue?” I asked. “I know it isn’t exactly in your wheelhouse, but there’s been a ton of chatter in the media about printing organs and creating body parts for people who’ve lost an arm or a hand. Do you think it’s possible?”
“Definitely,” Ryan answered confidently. “This is only the beginning. Right now, I can print porcelain out of my office. If you told me I’d be printing anything but paper when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have believed it. Tomorrow- who knows what we’ll be able to do?”
“That’s why it’s so attractive to you? Because of the sheer distance we still have to travel?” I asked.
“There’s just so much room for more,” he answered thoughtfully. “So many opportunities to add to the industry. There’s no framework yet for how this should be used. As an architect, I know that wood, steel, and brick all have ways they want to be used; limitations and rules to consider. With 3D printing, there’s no form it wants to take yet.”
“It also appeals to the artist in me, he continued. “Breaking up a material into its base parts, adding material where you need it- it’s the exact opposite of sculpting something, where you take material away from the whole. That’s pretty cool. With something this innovative, the possibilities are enormous. It’s going to keep spawning new ideas.”
Ryan Scavnicky is an adjunct instructor at Kent State University, a junior architect at Studio TECHNE, and an avid basketball fan.
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