Applications of 3D Printing in Architectural Restoration

Over the last century we’ve seen the aesthetic of building facades shift from ornately crafted, historical styles to more minimalist, sleeker designs. This simpler style arose from the presence of new technologies and materials including steel and concrete, as well as an emphasis on efficiency and utility, rather than ornamentation. The cost of restoring historic buildings has greatly increased as the number of craftsmen has dwindled. Many of these buildings are subsequently demolished and representations of historic architecture styles are erased. With the emergence of 3D printing technology, however, the possibilities of design and the preservation of these historical buildings are shifting again.

“Modern Ornamental” Method for Restoring Facades

In New York, architecture and engineering firm EDG developed a method for restoring historical buildings in the city called “Modern Ornamental.” The firm created complex molds to cast replicas of the parts needed to restore these buildings. 3D printing technology enables designers to scan any portion of a building and input the design and texture data into their 3D modeling software. Once the design information has been processed, a sturdy plastic mold of that part can be 3D printed. A mold would then be coated with a bond-breaker, inlaid with wire mesh and stirrups and cast with concrete. The design can then be catalogued and re-printed at any time. According to EDG, their process for printing and casting molds takes under a day to complete.

voxeljet’s Restoration of the Michael Portal at Cologne Cathedral

Directly 3D printing parts in different materials is also possible depending on the pieces involved. In Germany, 3DION 3D network and voxeljet teamed up to restore a piece of the Cologne Cathedral called the Michael Portal . After the portal was cleaned they decided to 3D print new replicas of the patrons of the Michael Portal. The 108 figures in the portal as well as existing plaster templates from the 19th century were 3D scanned and scaled and the patron replicas were printed from the CAD data over the course of one weekend using PMMA powder. The replicas were then reinforced by epoxy resin.

Capital Restoration at Spada Palace

Italian large format
digital printing company Sismaitalia produced five life-sized capitals for the
19th century Spada Palace in Ferrara by printing hollow replicas and filling
them with polyurethane foam. They were then finished with plaster and painted
to match the rest of the structure. This method ensured that manufacturing
costs would be kept to a minimum without foregoing the aesthetic.

for Restoring Notre Dame with 3D Printing

After Notre Dame caught fire in 2019 and was severely damaged, it was clear the costs and the limits of historical materials would make restoration...