1 cm

The last of three great nights


If you ever come to Spain around these days, this is how serious things are done here:

  • The night from 24th to 25th December: a family dinner and a Christmas meal. Usually no party out of home, but more and more people are receiving presents around this night.
  • The night from 31 december to January 1st: family or party out dinner, new year’s meal with your family. Midnight is the central moment. No gifts.
  • The night from january 5th to january 6th: according to tradition, the Kings (the Maggi from the bible) bring the gifts. No special dinner, gifts are unwrapped on January the 6th morning, and a family meal is usually associated. Even if some call for the end of monarchy in Spain, when it comes to gifts the Kings are still overwhelming (even if Santa, known here as “Papa Noel” as a derivation of its French name, is gaining ground…). The moment Angela Merkel knows some Spaniards receive two gifts, our sovereign debt spread will surely skyrocket…

Here you can see some images from yerterday’s afternoon in La Coruña, in Galicia (northwest Spain). People flocked to the streets, taking kids to see the King’s parade, or looking for a last chance to buy a present. Looking for a vantage point over the King’s parade we climbed to the Fundación Abanca and found an exhibition about the works of Isaac Díaz Pardo, quite interesting and beyond what I already knew due to the Sargadelos china; a rewarding intellectual gift.






An unexpected image of yours sincerely with bottles portraying a wedding


Columns (5)

Well, some of you think that perhaps is about time I disclose why this sudden interest in columns and computer generated imagery. Besides the obvious fact that I’m an architect that happens to have an eye for urban planning, a broad field, but is still interested in the physical shape of things, there is also a series of increasingly repetitive references around me to 3d printing as the next big think. Which I happen to agree with, even if my knowledge of the field is quite limited.

I will stick to the basics: 3d printing (or additive manufacturing, in a more technical jargon) allows the production of nearly anything that can be described in a 3d object description language, even if it is a composite object with multiple materials or even moving parts (or regardless of other qualities of the object itself). The cost of production is still unknown in the long term, as it is still developing as a technology; I do not know how it compares in economic and environmental terms with other manufacturing systems (will there be superfund sites associated with future 3d printing mills or their supply chains? Chances are, as with almost any other industrial system). But I think it can change many things depending on some elements:

There is much talk about how much market share 3d printing will grab in overall manufacturing. From a massive point of view, in terms of architecture, I think we are again facing the problem of prefabs, only from a different perspective. Some decades ago, people thought that prefabrication would be the future of architecture, but the current reality is rather mixed: sure, you have standard building elements in all advanced countries, but some things are simply not that convenient to prefab, as foundations. On the other side, prefab housing has got a negative image (at least in parts of Europe) as it is associated to social housing that has problems enough. The fact is that being able to use what is seen as a better technology will not always translate into effective use. Some will contend that 3d printing allows to just do what prefab could not: give specific answers to each problem, and a better quality.

And therein lies the rub. I do not know how much market share 3d manufacturing will capture, but there is what I would call an “intelligence cost” in architecture (or in any other production system) that probably will work against personalized elements from becoming the norm. Just assume you are to buy a home and you are on a tight budget: you will probably like customized architecture, but chances are that if you are offered an affordable price, you will go for a standard solution. Sure, you can use an algorithm to make each home different from the ones on each side, but getting a pleasant result requires a hard work, that has to be paid (well, architects have been doing it for centuries). So probably the incremental improvement of the industrial products we have come to be used to relating to computing will extend to material stuff, but in a subtle way. I can think of better I-beams, in which you can have, for instance, variable thickness flanges, increasing the efficiency in the use of steel, but this is something that will be invisible to the lay man. Right now it seems less likely to see in a near future every home being totally personalized (unless in some posh suburbs). And I’m not sure to see building sites as large scale plotters printing whole buildings at a rate of 1 mm per minute (in fact, concrete structures are already rather additive…), or as sets of robots moving from column to column building each to a specific design. Putting something in contact with the ground, which will deform under pressure, has complexities that seem hard to address with this kind of manufacturing.

A column is a structural element. Hansmeyer’s experiments are to be followed as morphogenesis is always interesting, but they are sometimes far from structural efficiency. That is not bad in itself, but just means it will somehow be for a niche market.

Given a chance to put a personal touch on your home, would you build something with your own hands (Christopher Alexander said architects should always put that touch on their buildings) or with a 3d printer? For most people, 3d software will be awkward. But some will make interesting contributions; or just think of what Ferdinand Cheval or Justo Gallego would have done with a 3d printing machine

Image by Yu. Khasanov

Let’s go back to Djuma mosque in Khiva. What is interesting there is that you have all the intelligence you need to produce that outstanding building, integrating the production systems and the technological knowledge. Columns are different, and I suspect that it is, among other things, for the same reason that stones have mason signs in European churches: a carver was paid for the elements he produced, so they had to be somehow recognizable. From a structural point of view, the elegance of the basis of the column comes from the fact that the surrounding walls are quite thick; I have never been there, but a wood post with this configuration is clearly unable to transfer lateral loads to its base, so this is a logical conclusion. Can 3d printing give us a better architecture? Just if the architecture is better, construction is just a part of it.

Columns (3)

Lets keep playing with the cube. Now with increasingly open cubes, that this time turn around themselves in the three axis while they go up, so we have a vertical column.

columna-a1 columna-a2 columna-a3 columna-b1 (2) columna-b1 columna-b2 (2) columna-b2columna-b3The geometrical code for this last image is as follows (povray again):

#declare cubhuec= difference {

 box {<-1.05, -1.05, -1.05> < 1.05, 1.05, 1.05> pigment{ color rgbf<.54, .55, .99,0>} } 
 box {<-1, -1, -1.3> < 1, 1, 1.3> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .3, .2,0>} } 
 box {<-1, -1, -1.3> < 1, 1, 1.3> rotate <0,90,0> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .3, .2,0>} } 
 box {<-1, -1, -1.3> < 1, 1, 1.3> rotate <90,0,0> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .3, .2,0>} } 

#declare hcolumn=7;
#declare n=0; 
#declare ndiv=1;
#while (n<ndiv)
object {cubhuec scale <1,1,1> rotate <360*n/ndiv,360*n/ndiv,360*n/ndiv> translate <0,0,n*hcolumn/ndiv> }
#declare n=n+1 ;

box {<-10, -10, -4> < 10, 10, -1.2> pigment{ color rgbf<.99, .99, 1,0> } } //floor

Columns (2)


Well, let’s do for a moment something that could seem like what Michael Hansmeyer has done. He worked with cubes, altough he decided to subdivide the cubes like folding them; here the issue will be simple rotations of the cube, that can give you unexpected results. Hansmeyer has used in his works processing, a graphic software that is open source and free, and I’m using here something older, albeit somehow simple and effective, povray, which also happens to be free to download and use at will (some are even using it to 3d print sugar elements…). In the end, this could be a design for a part of column.


If you ask the cube to spin around a vertical axis, you get in the end a cylinder (the upper image is made of just 10 cubes, so it is not still there).


But if you gently ask your cube to rotate also around an horizontal axis as it turns around the vertical axis, some things start to happen. The upper image shows 10 iterations of that, and the lower one 100 iterations.

column4 column-b-1

To better grasp what happens, lets use two slightly shorter red and green slabs in the upper and lower parts of the rotating cube…

column-b-2 column-b-3 column-c-1

Shape becomes rather flamboyant (and, to be honest, not architectural at all) when you change the proportion of the green and red companions.


10 iterations


100 iterations

column-c-41.000 iterations

The geometrical code for that last image is, in pov terms, as follows:

#declare n=0; 
#declare ndiv=1000;
#while (n<ndiv)

 box {<-1.1, -1.1, -1> < 1.1, 1.1, 1> translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,360*n/ndiv,360*n/ndiv> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .9, .5,0>} } 
 box {<-.1, -1, -.1> < .1, .1, -3.1> translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<1, 0, 0,0>} } 
 box {<-.1, -.1, 1> < .1, .1, 3.1> translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<0, 1, 0,0>} }
 sphere { <-1.1,-1.1, -1> 0.5 translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<.7, .8, 1,0>} }
 sphere { <1.1,1.1, 1> 0.5 translate <0,1.5,0> rotate <0,(360/ndiv)*n,(360/ndiv)*n> pigment{ color rgbf<1, .5, .5,0>} }

#declare n=n+1 ;

Columns (1)


Columns have been a concentration of architectural knowledge as well for structure as for decoration. Upper image, Alhambra, Granada, and lower image, the christian cathedral of Granada, both taken during the same travel.

The third image is from a place I have not visited in person, but which was really impressive to see in the motion picture “Orlando” (Sally Potter, 1992): Djuma Mosque, in Uzbekistan.


Djuma mosque, an image by Rye Kizuka on Picassa

Biblio (65) Michael Hansmeyer

Hansmeyer’s columns image on Ludger Hovestadt’s blog

Michae Hasmeyer is an achitect and programmer who has taken an experimental path concerning the prouction of complex architectural forms through additive manufacturing (3d printing) by using materials somehow close to traditional ones, mixing sand and resins, with resolutions under the 1 mm limit. No pdf to download in this biblio issue, but a website which shows the process and the production.

The formal issue rises: here there is no portrayal of natural shapes or human bodies, but rather of a series of geometrical combinations of platonic solids, resulting in products which remind me of H.R. Giger.