October 19, 2015
When architects at Architecture Incorporated next present a plan for campus development to a potential client, they will bring a model created by a 3-D printer.
For now, it sits on a conference table at the downtown Sioux Falls firm – a replica of a large piece of land with miniature three-dimensional buildings designed by the architects.
“Instead of spending hours and having to build it by hand ... those were done in about two days of throwing it on the printer,” architect Catherine Dekkenga said.
Nearby, another model is “more of a dream,” she said. It shows the firm’s own building at 415 S. Main Ave. and how a nearby parking lot might be redeveloped.
The 3-D printed model allows architects to pop up the parking lot’s footprint and see how other buildings might look there.
“The idea is what can we put in between there instead of just a parking lot,” Dekkenga said. “What would a skyscraper look like?”
The technology to do such modeling is becoming more widely used. Architecture Incorporated bought its 3-D printer late last year. While they aren’t widely used in Sioux Falls yet, larger firms are starting to look at them.
“It’s hard because it is an expense, and sometimes smaller firms haven’t invested yet, but there are tools like this that definitely architects are starting to use a lot more,” Dekkenga said.
Architects historically have embraced new technology as a method to help clients understand designs before anything is built, said Dave Van Nieuwenhuyzen, director of architecture at Fiegen Construction Co. and president of the South Dakota chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
“Computer programs have come a long way as a tool in accurately producing renderings, images and animations ... and placing them into the context of the site or in the case of an addition or remodel into the existing conditions,” he said.
“Now, with the advent of 3-D printers and other virtual reality technology, architects are able to produce more and better with these new tools. Taking 2-D prints into the 3-D environment helps the client see their project come to life.”
At Architecture Incorporated, “we’ve always had a commitment to try to do the new stuff, at least try it out,” founder and president Dick Dempster said. “I love it. I’m of the era where we cut our fingers with X-Acto knife blades ... and now you create those shapes on the computer and just print them out. It’s exciting.”
The firm will get even techier soon when it starts using Oculus Rift, a virtual reality system that uses a headset to immerse someone in a scene.
“You put on the glasses, and you can hook up a joystick and walk through the space – upstairs, through doors, down a hallway and experience the whole model,” Dekkenga said.
The architects tried it out following a trade show recently and were hooked.
“It was almost like a roller coaster,” Dekkenga said, as she tried it out with the design of a church.
“I got to walk on the balcony, down some side stairs, through doors and into a hallway,” she said. “It was neat. This is a whole new element of feeling the space and being surrounded by it.”
The new technology will be a unique perspective for clients, Dempster said, but he’s also excited about using it to better communicate with engineers and for his staff to visualize projects as they are working on them.
“I’m anxious to see how it works when we walk through a campus setting, an assembly of buildings or a downtown area,” he said.
Oculus Rift is the next generation of 3-D modeling, Van Nieuwenhuyzen said.
“It will be a great tool for architects and our clients. It’s just the next step in real-time renderings and animation that has been available and used in our industry for a while now.”
New technologies often are integrated into higher education before they are introduced in professional offices, he added.
That’s also the case at South Dakota State University, where architecture students use multiple 3-D printers in their designs as well as CNC routers to cut models.
There’s also a plasma cutter to cut steel and a 3-D laser scanner, which students can use instead of measuring and drawing spaces.
Department chairman Brian Rex compares the technology to “like you see in CSI where you can put it in a room or space ... and it sends out a pulse of laser, and when it bounces back, it does all the points in space around it.”
The school is trying to develop new architects with knowledge of technology who can help firms move forward, he said.
“All these changes that used to be kind of radical ideas are fairly standard when you have people who know how to use them,” Rex said. “They’re no longer the extravagancies they once were, and clients paid for it through the nose. Now, every client expects it.”
Adding new technology also will help Sioux Falls compete with firms from other markets that are eyeing the city for business, he said, while adding that firms in the whole area “are doing a really good job.”
“There are no cities this size I know of that have this many firms that are this good.”