For Hollywood-based 5+design, a global creative design studio, projects skew big and complex. Think retail and restaurant spaces for one of Royal Caribbean’s largest ships, the interiors of Russia’s largest shopping mall and the China World Trade Center in Beijing, home to the country’s tallest office building. Realizing those projects, though, takes creativity–not to mention the ability to harness cutting-edge technologies. For the latter, the firm was an early adopter of 3D printing, which has allowed a new degree of flexibility.
“For our work, presenting a project in 3D is always critical,” says Stan Hathway, a co-founder and managing principal at the firm. “Because architecture is experiential, clients want to see and be a part of the project. 3D printing allows us another avenue.” Design principal Mike Swischuk adds, “We’re doing composite models at this point. If shapes that are too complex to build, we’ll use the 3D printer.” Often the finished product will include larger pieces and landscape contours rendered by the printer, but other items fabricated by hand.
One of the other great benefits of the new technology is time. Simply put, using the printer means fewer hours of actual human labor, which can be directed elsewhere in the firm. Of course, given the complexity of the firm’s work and their role as early adopters of the technology, they’ve had to work with vendors to create software that is up to the complexity of their work. “Since all of our projects are so unique, we’ve had to have software programs written—we’re a little bit of a guinea pig,” says Swischuk.
At this point, though, there’s still much to be said for doing work the old-fashioned way. While human labor is saved, there’s the machine labor to contend with—larger pieces can take several hours to render. Things like finishes and glazing, too, are a challenge. Hathaway, though, is sure that 3D printing technology will catch up to the needs of large firms doing big projects. “It will get more sophisticated. It’s the wave of the future,” he says.