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No-Stick Jam: 3d Printed Stone and String Structure Rocks Biennial

No-Stick Jam: 3D-Printed Stone and String Structure Rock Biennial

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by JOHN GREGERSON, Third in the series | Nov 14, 2015

A team of U.S. and Swiss designers has created what purports to be the first architectural structure built without any mortar or other adhesive, just rocks and thread, they say. It also was constructed with an assist from a robotic arm-like, powder-based 3-D printer.

In all, the printer placed some five miles of string among layers of stone to create Rock Print, a hulking, three-legged, 13-ft.-tall sculpture now on display at the Chicago Cultural Center, where it is drawing large crowds as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the city's three-month-long open dialogue on The State of the Art of Architecture, which concludes Jan. 3.

According to creators Gramazio Kohler Research of ETH Zurich University and the Self-Assembly Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rock Print “brings forward a new category of potentially random-packed, poly disperse structures that can be automatically fabricated in nonstandard shapes.” In plain-speak, the resulting structure derives from a phenomenon known as “jamming,” in which materials are held together so tightly by the force of their own compression they can assume shape without need of a container.

Gaze, don't graze: People are flocking to see the novel 3D-printed sculpture formed without adhesives.

Gaze, don't graze: People are flocking to see the novel 3D-printed sculpture formed without adhesives.

In this instance, the “rocks” actually consist of crushed glass and additives that form a foam-like additive once the glass expands under heating. After workers deposited individual layers of resulting aerated glass pebbles into a support frame, a 3D printing extruder bound them in string in accordance with algorithmically calculated patterns. Once filled, down came the frame to unveil Rock Print.

The sculpture has given rise to the term “reversible concrete,” meaning it can be dismantled without jackhammers, explosives and other devises, leaving its components intact for future use. In fact, Rock Print, itself, resulted from a desire to create a temporary installation in which the materials could be reused, according to its design team.

Though they speculate that the technology and its reuse potential could one day be incorporated widely into a variety of building projects, team members also acknowledge that years of research will be required to determine its full potential.

Meantime, Rock Print is meant to be seen rather than touched. If touched, some rocks may fall. Even so, its creators maintain, we can feel reassured. After all, Rock Print's core is, well, rock solid.   

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