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    Is there potential for 3D printers in landscape architecture?

    Nathan Johnson

    Landscape architects will be able to bypass contractors and participate directly in the fabrication of all sorts of landscape objects in the future if they embrace 3D printing technology, says leading American landscape architects.

    The annual meeting of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), much like Australia’s own FORECAST held by the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), was held in November and brought together landscape design professionals from the USA to discuss movements for the industry.

    One issue, brought to the fore by landscape architects Scott Bishop and John Pacyga in a keynote, is that new 3D printing technology will give landscape designers more power in their design process to communicate ideas with clients, create prototypes for their designs and actually fabricate the end product, potentially eliminating the middle man in the process.

    “This can really disrupt the product development process,” they said in their Keynote.  
    “We can now actually make products the way we want.” 


    3D printers will also benefit a more successful and compelling communication process between professionals and clients, explained Bishop, because of the tangibility of a 3D model.

    “It’s one thing to fly through a 3D model and another to let them see what we want to make,” explained Bishop.

    But the potential of 3D modelling doesn’t stop there; Bishop also described one of his recent projects for Harvard University(pictured below) in which he created custom designed benches through a selection process of trial and error. Because of their speed and accuracy, Bishop’s firm was able to make eight prototypes via a 3D printer before sending the final design choice directly to a manufacturer.

    Where this optimism slows is in the cost, maintenance and technicality of current 3D printers which aren’t cheap, involve constant calibration and maintenance, and can also mean relearning elements of 3D modelling software programs.


    Bishop’s firm, Stoss Landscape Urbanism created ergonomic, custom-designed benches via 3D printed models for Harvard University. They created one idea, then four, and then eight, followed by a range of before deciding on a final bench idea. (Images: Barrett Doherty and Stoss.net)

    Pacyga said that if you’re looking to purchase your own desktop Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) machine to print 3D printed models for your clients then you can expect to see a big cost discrepancy between manufacturers (between US$500 to $4,000 in America). Pacyga warned that you get what you pay for so invest in a good one.

    Pacyga also warned that if you aren’t purchasing your own 3D printer and will be sending models of to 3D printing centres then expect to wait between two to four weeks, “so plan ahead,” said Pacyga.

    He also advised to assess the costing methods of 3D printing centres; whether they charge on volume, time or materials, or any combination of these.

    The final hurdle might be having to relearn elements of 3D modelling software, such as Rhino or Sketchup, to ensure models are watertight and manifold before being sent to the printer.

    This obviously isn’t essential with 2D prints and computer screen display but with 3D models everything must have depth considered as well.

    Pacyga recommended using Cleanup3, Solid Inspector, or SUsolid.com, services that analyse your models to find any “dangling lines or holes.”

    Top image: Gigaom 3D printer.

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