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April 2019, MILAN


For our eighth consecutive year at Salone del Mobile, we have partnered with architect Arthur Mamou-Mani and his team to create Conifera, an installation made from 3D-printed bioplastic bricks.

Futuristic tech in a Renaissance setting

Flowing through the courtyard and into the gardens of Palazzo Isimbardi, a design made using 21st century technology is brought to life in a building that dates back to the 16th century.

The installation looks to the future of design, tech and material innovation. An ethereal experience that bridges architecture and nature.

“Our work delves into the architect as maker and the holistic nature of design processes.”

‒ Arthur Mamou-Mani

Renewable materials

Material innovation in the installation: each 3D-printed brick is made from PLA – a bioplastic that is fully compostable, created using renewable resources.

Three colours are seen in the structure: the translucent sections are PLA in its purest form, whereas the white parts contain a pigment and the brown hue comes from adding wood pulp.

Fir trees were the source of this wood pulp. The way cones grow naturally on these evergreen trees is reminiscent of how the bio bricks were designed, giving the installation its name: Conifera. The bricks were created through an open-source software, using parametric design to maintain structural stability while optimising the use of materials — essentially using less to achieve more.

The future of 3D printing in design and architecture

A return to the designer as thinker and maker

We are in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution — a period where the physical world and the digital sphere are becoming blurred, through developments in everything from robotics to artificial intelligence. In this new era, 3D printing holds the potential to bridge the gap between traditional craft and mechanised production.

Previously, industry moved towards factory output and away from the designer or architect as creator. The 3D-printing process is far more holistic, putting them front and centre – starting with the initial idea and ending with the finished work.

Throughout history, artists, designers and architects alike have sought to emulate the intricacy of nature’s architecture, looking to the beauty of a rose or a spider’s web. Both machinery and the human hand often fall short when it comes to these levels of complexity. This futuristic technology could actually provide the detail craftsmen have been craving for centuries, bringing them closer to their creations in an unexpected way.

With dedicated research groups working towards biologically inspired construction, 3D printing has already begun to look to nature, from building materials that mimic bone to advances like Project Silkworm – the open-source software developed by Arthur Mamou-Mani and Adam Holloway, inspired by how the silkworm weaves its cocoon. Such inventions could clearly have dramatic effects, whether in biological science or architecture and design.

Aside from the sheer possibility of material innovation, the real thing that 3D printing offers designers is freedom. Simply the ability to produce a model quickly and easily in your own studio could transform design and architecture. It puts the onus back on the designer as thinker and maker, harking back to the approach of Mid-Century Modernism, but without a hint of nostalgia. Instead it focuses on the movement’s core values: social and material innovation, and, above all, embracing the potential of technology.

By Billie Muraben, arts and culture writer

Visit the installation:

1 Palazzo Isimbardi
Corso Monforte 35
20122 Milan

9th April: 10am – 8pm
10th April: 10am – 5pm
11th April: 10am – 5pm
12th – 14th April: 10am – 8pm

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