I receive emails from Google about, among other things, 3D printing. These 3D printing emails link to pieces that mostly confirm my current prejudice about 3D printing, which is that it is an addition to the technological armoury of current manufacturers rather than any sort of domesticated challenge to the conventional idea of manufacturing being done by manufacturers. Far from making manufacturing less skilled, 3D printing is, as of now, making manufacturing more skilled. Which is good news for all rich countries whose economic edge is provided by being able to deploy an educated rather than merely industrious workforce.
Here is the kind of story that these emails link to:
… my colleagues and I have found a way to print composite material by making a relatively simple addition to a cheap, off-the-shelf 3D printer. The breakthrough was based on the simple idea of printing using a liquid polymer mixed with millions of tiny fibres. This makes a readily printable material that can, for example, be pushed through a tiny nozzle into the desired location. The final object can then be printed layer by layer, as with many other 3D printing processes.
The big challenge was working out how to reassemble the tiny fibres into the carefully arranged patterns needed to generate the superior strength we expect from composites. The innovation we developed was to use ultrasonic waves to form the fibres into patterns within the polymer while it’s still in its liquid state.
The ultrasound effectively creates a patterned force field in the liquid plastic and the fibres move to and align with low pressure regions in the field called nodes. The fibres are then fixed in place using a tightly focused laser beam that cures (sets) the polymer. …
The patterned fibres can be thought of as a reinforcement network, just like the steel reinforcing bars that are routinely placed in concrete structures …
In earlier pieces I have done here about 3D printing, commenters have compared the current state of domestic 3D printing with the state that domestic 2D printing had reached in the days of the dot matrix printer. Remember those? Maybe not. They disappeared from common view quite a while ago now.
The above description of miniature reinforcing rods makes me think that something like a 3D printing analogue to the 2D domestic laser printer may be about to emerge. Laser printers supplied, once their price had fallen to something domestically tolerable, unprecedented clarity and flexibility to domestic computer users. The process described above, and all the other 3D printing advances that those google emails tell me about, will, if all develops well, supply unprecedented internal strength, and hence just all-round quality, to cheaply printed 3D objects.
None of which means that specialised 3D printing by specialisers in all the various different sorts of 3D printing that are now coming on stream will cease to be a way to make a living, any more than specialised 2D printing experts have all now been run out of business by amateurs in their homes. (Quite the opposite – that link being just one for-instance of a hundred that I might have picked – I just happen to have particularly noticed taxis covered in adverts.) It is merely that, in the not too distant future, domesticated 3D printing may actually become seriously useful to people other than hobbyists and 3D printing self-educators.
However, even as supply gets ever cleverer, when it comes to domestic 3D printing there remains the problem of demand. As I asked in this earlier posting here (commenter Shirley Knott agreed): What 3D printed objects will be demanded domestically in sufficient quantities, again and again with only superficial variations (in the way that black-on-white messages on paper are now demanded) to make domestic 3D printing make any sense? No answer was supplied in those comments three years ago, and I have heard no answer since. So the above ultrasound-arranged reinforcing rods trick will almost certainly turn into just another manufacturing technique for old-school manufacturers to apply to their old-school specialist manufacturing businesses. Which means that this posting becomes just another Samizdata Ain’t Capitalism Great? postings. Which is fine. On the other hand, few can see killer apps coming, until suddenly they come. So maybe a future beckons, which sees us all eating out, but making other, inedible stuff in our kitchens.
The reinforced concrete reference also makes me even more eager than I long have been to see how 3D printing impacts on the world of architecture, architecture being another enthusiasm of mine. Postings like this one at Dezeen make it clear that this is a question that lots of others are wondering about also.
Like Michael Jennings, I end my 2015 blogging efforts here at Samizdata with a clutch of pictures. Unlike Michael, I haven’t managed to do anything like this for every one of the last ten years. I did do something similar two years ago, but this time last year my retrospective attention was concentrated on the speakers at my monthly meetings, without any pictures of them.
I began my 2015 in France.
→ Continue reading: My 2015 in pictures
One of the dominant themes of architectural development of the last few decades, and never more so than right now, is the architectural use of glass. Architectural glass used to be a means by which Architectural Modernists could fry, freeze and embarrass the lower orders, in the name of Architectural Modernism. Transparency, “structural honesty”, blah blah. But in the last few decades architectural glass has got hugely better and more varied, and architectural modernity has gone from ugly and clunky to really quite stylish, at least when they are trying.
And now, here is favourite-website-of-mine Dezeen, reporting on what the fact of and the possibilities of 3D printed glass are and might be:
Designer and researcher Neri Oxman and her Mediated Matter group at MIT Media Lab have developed a technique for 3D-printing molten glass, meaning that transparent glass objects can be printed for the first time …
Cool. Metaphorically speaking.
Oxman’s team have used the technique to produce a range of vases and bowls, but Oxman said that the new glass-printing technology could be used at an architectural scale.
Which is what gets Dezeen’s juices flowing, because they are very big on architecture, as am I.
The process, for which a patent application has been submitted, can create an infinite variety of glass forms, just like a traditional 3D printer.
“The additive manufacturing of glass enables us to generate structures that are geometrically customisable and optically tunable with high spatial resolution in manufacturing,” Oxman told Dezeen. …
“Because we can design and print outer and inner surface textures independently (unlike glass blowing) we can control solar transmittance.”
By the look of it, the early uses of this kit will not be for building. They’ll be for making weird bowls and drinking glasses and lighting kit and jewellery and the like, and to begin with only for people with money to burn. But, that’s all part of how start-up and R&D costs are paid. Capitalism soaks the rich, and thereby eventually brings wonder-products to the mass market, in the form of cheap stuff that the most rapacious monarchs of the past could only dream of possessing.
Another use for this sort of technology might be for such things as solar panels, including quite small ones. The phrase “solar transmittance” certainly suggests that this thoughts like that have not escaped Neri Oxman and her collaborators. My techy friends are telling me that solar power is nearing economic viability. 3D-printed glass can surely only help with that.
Yet another reason why I would really like to live to the end of the next century, instead of only half way through
it this one if I’m very lucky.
“These anti-homeless spikes are brutal. We need to get rid of them”, writes Leah Borromeo in the Guardian.
So we decided to do something to neutralise it. A group of friends and I laid a mattress and a bookshelf stocked with tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty atop some particularly vicious spikes on London’s Curtain Road. In the 1990s, it was the epicentre of a burgeoning artistic community that would eventually emerge as tastemakers in the visual and performing arts. We’re all aware that an artistic scene that gains any sort of appeal or traction is eventually leeched on, Death-Eater-like, by “property developers”. We saw these spikes as a direct assault on everything that makes us human. Anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home, no friends, no support. Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.
If some developers had their way, they’d commodify oxygen. To stop us having a society where it is acceptable to do that, we’ve decided to help out the best way we know how. We’re a loose collective of artists, journalists, academics, graduates and performers. We’re cultural producers. And with that comes the responsibility that what we make and share with the world highlights injustice and offers alternatives.
Many comments ask whether Ms Borromeo, a journalist and filmmaker, has made her own doorstep – or her own bedroom – available to the homeless. It is an obvious question. This does not stop it being a good one. I would imagine her own bookshelves are well stocked with “tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty”, so she could offer the free use of these as an additional incentive to make her own property a “more inclusive space where misfortunes of circumstance such as homelessness aren’t banned.”
On the other hand the capitalist vipers who own the Curtain Road premises probably regard the reading material left on their doorstep by Ms Borromeo and her preening chums (“The only good thing about living in austerity Britain is that through pushing us into a corner, the government and the money that controls it is unwittingly training up a generation of fighters. Some of us will kick and scream. Others will be by the ringside healing the wounded”) as a more effective deterrent than the spikes.
OK, this woman is a poseur. She isn’t a healer of the wounded, she just plays one in her own mind. I would give her a little more respect if I learned that her good deeds to the homeless included volunteering at homeless shelters or accompanying those charity workers and street pastors who make the rounds of those places where rough sleepers go every night. Or if I thought that she had spent even a moment thinking about the plight of the shop owner who sees her sales plummet because customers don’t want to push past the dosser on the floor to enter, or the premises manager who has to clean up the urine and needles every morning.
Yet it is possible to acknowledge the right of those put up these spikes to do so, and also have sympathy with the homeless. Ms Borromeo’s statement that “anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home” is the usual hyperbole (she need not worry about the chances of it happening to her), but it is true that things can go wrong for a person with surprising speed. There is probably at least one of your classmates from primary school who has lost everything, usually via drugs or alcohol. There are ways to help, but all of them have downsides. Homeless shelters, whether run by true charities or government funded, must themselves exclude some people. I would not be surprised or angered to learn that they make use of “access control” spikes themselves. If the shelters don’t exclude anyone – if they allow people to sleep there who are violent or predatory – then they destroy their own function as a refuge. The one sentence in Ms Borromeo’s article that rang true was “Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.”
One of the many felicities of Bill Bryson’s At Home: A Short History of Private Life, which I am currently engaged in reading and am enjoying greatly, is that noted warriors and statesmen do get mentioned, but for their peacetime activities.
The Duke of Wellington, for instance, gets just the two brief mentions, on page 128, for his habit of consuming a very large breakfast, this being an illustration of the then breakfasting habits of rich personages generally, and before that on page 49, when in his dotage Wellington was in nominal charge of an army of militiamen whose task would have been to quell any revolutionary outrages that the masses gathered for the Great Exhibition of 1851 might have felt inclined to perpetrate, outrages which were greatly feared at the time but which never materialised.
Concerning two big military and political movers and shakers on the other side of the Atlantic, Bryson has more to say, because they, unlike Wellington, made two very impressive and influential contributions (Jefferson’s Monticello and Washington’s Mount Vernon) to the art of domestic architecture, and in consequence to architecture generally:
Had Thomas Jefferson and George Washington merely been plantation owners who built interesting houses, that would have been accomplishment enough, but in fact of course between them they also instituted a political revolution, conducted a long war, created and tirelessly served a new nation, and spent years away from home. Despite these distractions, and without proper training or materials, they managed to build two of the most satisfying houses ever built. That really is quite an achievement.
Monticello’s celebrated contraptions – its silent dumbwaiters and dual-action doors and the like – are sometimes dismissed as gimmicks, but in fact they anticipated by 150 years or so the American love for labour-saving devices, and helped to make Monticello not just the most stylish house ever built in America but also the first modern one. But it is Mount Vernon that has been the more influential of the two. It became the ideal from which countless other houses, as well as drive-through banks, motels, restaurants and other roadside attractions, derive. Probably no other single building in America has been more widely copied – almost always, alas, with a certain robust kitschiness, but that is hardly Washington’s fault and decidedly unfair to his reputation. Not incidentally, he also introduced the first ha-ha into America and can reasonably claim to be the father of the American lawn; among all else he did, he devoted years of meticulous effort to trying to create the perfect bowling green, and in so doing became the leading authority in the New World on grass seed and grass.
It is remarkable to think that much less than a century separated Jefferson and Washington living in a wilderness without infrastructure from a Gilded Age America that dominated the world. At probably no time in history has daily life changed more radically and comprehensively than in the seventy-four years between the death of Thomas Jefferson in 1826 and the beginning of the following century …
A “ha-ha”, in case you are wondering, is a fence set in a ditch, which works as a regular fence for impeding animals, but which doesn’t spoil the view.
Concerning those “proper materials” that Washington and Jefferson lacked, I particularly enjoyed reading (pp. 424-8) about the infuriations suffered by rich pre-revolutionary Americans when trying to get Brits to send stuff over to America for them to build and furnish their houses, in sufficient quantities, of the correct sort, not ruined in transit, and for a non-extortionate price. The Brits insisted that everything that Americans bought from abroad had to go via Britain, even stuff originating in the West Indies. Of this draconian policy, Bryson says (p. 428):
This suppression of free trade greatly angered the Scottish economist Adam Smith (whose Wealth of Nations, not coincidentally, came out the same year that America declared its independence) but not nearly as much as it did the Americans, who naturally resented the idea of being kept eternally as a captive market. It would be overstating matters to suggest that the exasperations of commerce were the cause of the American revolution, but they were certainly a powerful component.
Despite such things as the dramas now going on in the Ukraine and in the Middle East, most of us now live amazingly peaceful and comfortable lives, when compared to the hideously warlike and uncomfortable lives lived in the past. That being so, more and more of us are going to want to read books like this one by Bryson, about how life became as comfortable as it now is, who contrived it, and how, and so forth and so on. We are now becoming the kind of people who attach more importance to things like why forks are the way they are, or why wallpaper started out being poisonous, or how vitamins were discovered and itemised, or how farming got better just when big new industrial populations needed more food, or how gardening became such a huge hobby or how meat, fruit and vegetables first got refrigerated, than we do to such things as the details of the Duke of Wellington’s or George Washington’s battles.
All this peace and comfort may turn out to be a mere interlude, if all-out war between Great Powers is resumed, and if that happened, the people in the formerly comfortable countries, like mine now, would soon rediscover any appetite they might now be losing for learning about war rather than about peace. But despite recent claims that our times resemble those just before WW1, I personally see little sign of a real no-holds-barred Great War erupting soon between two or more Great Powers. Putin is not Hitler reborn and Russia now is not 1940s Germany; the Muslims are mostly killing each other rather than us; and attacks with H-bomb barrages remain as utterly terrifying now as they have been ever since they were first made possible.
The above photograph is of the main building of Moscow State University in the Sparrow Hills district of Moscow. This is one of the so called Seven Sisters – the Stalinist buildings that are prominent in the Moscow skyline. When completed in 1953 this was the tallest building in the world outside New York City, and it remained the tallest building in Europe until 1990. The building was built partly with gulag labour. As it was nearing completion, the gulag workers were housed inside it in order to minimise the number of guards required, so the building functioned as something resembling a gulag itself during construction.
The Seven Sisters were built in the 1950s after the USSR obtained the technical knowledge to built large steel framed skyscrapers from the United States. There are a few more such buildings scattered throughout the former USSR and the former Warsaw Pact states. The most notable of them outside Moscow is the Palace of Science and Culture in Warsaw, which I have written about before.
The Polish attitude to that building is, at this point in time, mixed. It is a memento of having been occupied by the Soviets, an experience of which the Poles are not especially fond of the memory of. However, the familiar becomes familiar, and it is hard to imagine it not being there. The Palace of Science and Culture is full of many good cinemas, theatres, concert halls, and other venues for cultural activities, and many a good evening has been had there by many a Polish person. As the years go by, other tall buildings have been built in Warsaw, none of which have anything like the same style, and the Palace of Science and Culture has become just a historical artifact (and a reasonably interesting one) in a more modern, and more western city. Nobody would ever think of building another building anything like it, and it remains as an integral, but singlular, landmark of the city.
Moscow is different. There are seven large buildings in the same Stalinist gothic style, and a number of smaller ones. They are not physically together, but are scattered all over the city. They don’t dominate the Moscow skyline, exactly – if anything does it is the spires of the cathedrals of the Kremlin and Red Square – but they lend an essential part of the character of the city. Take photographs and there is always one lurking in the background somewhere. Their style is one of the defining styles that defines Moscow, and even defines Russia.
Consider this building, though, to be found elsewhere in Moscow.
This is the Triumph Palance. This is a residential apartment building out along Leningradsky Prospect corridor in the direction of Sheremetyevo airport and the stadium belonging to the football team CSKA Moscow. It was completed in 2003. For a few years after that, it was the tallest building in Europe. There is also a hotel on the 53rd floors and above. A quick check on booking.com finds that the hotel offers rooms from £171 a night, which I think in Moscow puts it in the “very nice but not extremely luxurious” category. I bet the views are great. A walk up to the building finds security and people who come and going who look prosperous but not obscenely rich. I think we are talking oligarchs’ lawyers rather than oligarchs themselves.
The building, though, is clearly influenced by the style of the Stalinist-Gothic architecture from the 1950s. It would seem that there therefore exists an architectural style that might be called “Stalinist revival”. Saying that this style is nostalgic for the communism of the Soviet 1950s is probably not right, but it is clear that that era has had a big influence on what makes Moscow Moscow just the same – to the extent that the city is still building upon it. This is unthinkable in Warsaw, but is what happens in Moscow. This almost makes me think about some of the strange iconography I have seen recently from Eastern Ukraine: “Russian Nationalists” holding up communist symbols and Russian Orthodox Christian iconography side by side. Communist iconography no longer means anything as communism, but has become part of the language of Russian nationalism.
I am told there are some Stalinist revival buildings in Kazakhstan, too. In fact, there is even another Triumph Palace in Astana. What I should read from this, I shall leave for another day.
Most of the commenters to this fascinating Guardian article on the many copies of famous Western buildings and bridges being built in the Chinese city of Suzhou dismiss the replicas as vulgar.
Vulgar they are. They are what you get when the some of the vulgus get rich and build what they like.
It [the explosion of urban mimicry] is also a result of housing becoming a free-market commodity. After Mao’s death, the introduction of a new economic policy, starting in 1979, opened the nation to foreign investment and restored private control over land use. Real estate investors supported by Hong Kong, Taiwanese and overseas Chinese financiers were quick to exploit the new opportunities in the booming housing market. With a rapid increase in the number of cities, a growing middle class and a desire to invest capital in property, there has been a boom in residential construction, investment and sales, coupled with a desire to demonstrate personal prestige.
Tyrannical regimes don’t collapse because the peasantry are suffering. They collapse when the hitherto supportive inner circle of peasant-minders starts to suffer.
Thus it is that the most politically portentous line in this (thankyou Mick Hartley) about two new buildings in North Korea, one collapsing, the other already collapsed …:
Another apartment building in Pyongyang is reportedly in danger of collapse as fear spreads after a 23-story apartment building collapsed in the North Korean capital early this month, killing hundreds of people.
Both high-risers were built as upmarket homes for the elite.
A government source here on Tuesday cited rumors that an apartment building in Mansudae in downtown Pyongyang has subsided around 10 cm and dozens of cracks have appeared in the walls. “Fearing a collapse, residents are racing to sell their apartments and move out,” the source added.
… is the bit in the middle, about how these collapsing apartments are “homes for the elite”. By the sound of it, no North Korean home that is more than a tiny few stories up in the sky any longer feels safe.
Not so elite now, are they? If peasant houses collapse, screw ’em. But who is going to screw these people? They are screwers.
Not so long ago there was a somewhat similar report concerning badly built towers in China.
One of these weeks, months, years, decades, a really really big skyscraper is going to come crashing down to the ground. Not because someone flew a plane into it. No, of its own accord. Through its own “internal contradictions”, you might say.
When that happens – and I really do think it’s only a matter of when – what’s the betting that the media coverage will imitate art.
I see that Instapundit has become aware of Parkinson’s Other Law, the one about custom-built headquarters buildings. This is the law that says that any organisation which builds itself a brand new headquarters building is heading for disaster.
Instapundit links to a Wired piece about Apple’s new mega HQ, which does indeed look like a recipe for corporate disaster. This new Apple enormity looks a lot like the GCHQ building in Cheltenham, which was completed in 2003, after that organisation had participated successfully in two major wars – WW2 and Cold. But that Apple scheme has been around for a while. The latest HQ building news comes courtesy of Amazon:
Pity. I really like Amazon. I hope its death throes are prolonged enough not to derange me too much. I hope, that is to say, that in the near future, it is Amazon’s shareholders who suffer most of whatever Amazonian grief is about to erupt. However, I do fear that if, as a result of a share price collapse, Amazon then tries to be profitable, this might hurt us now-very-happy customers quite badly too.
Immediately after the Dezeen piece linked to above, about the new Amazon HQ, there came another piece, about a new Twitter HQ. But, although suspiciously well designed (hence it being noticed by Dezeen), this is to be in an already existing building that used to be a furniture store. This is the right way to contrive a new headquarters building, if you really must have such a thing at all.
I realise that the sums of money that get spent on “culture” are very small potatoes indeed when set beside other sorts of government extravagance.
Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that there is a connection between this report about France’s “new wave of culture-focused building projects”:
A Napoleon III villa in a Parisian suburb, squatted by artists and musicians; a cathedral-like hangar, the vestige of Dunkirk’s naval industry that used to define the life cycle of the entire city; a new, 240m-long bridge in the French Alps. This is just a sample of France’s recent crop of architectural projects, and they have at least one thing in common: they are all cultural facilities that offer a draw both through their content and their site.
… and reports like this one from the BBC about French economic pessimism, or this one entitled Is France the new Italy?
Hollande’s Socialist administration faces protests over taxes and burdensome regulation not just from business leaders, as you might expect, but also from farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, truck drivers and soccer players. …
Leaning heavily on higher taxes, the government has been slow to get public spending under control. France’s ratio of public spending to gross domestic product is now 57 percent – the highest in the euro area.
As Instapundit likes to say, what can’t go on forever won’t.
What, I wonder, will those new culture palaces end up being used for?
Regulars here will know my interest in the phenomenon of Custom Built Headquarters Syndrome.
So now, I can’t help suspecting that maybe what Roger Kimball says, about the disaster that is Apple’s latest version of something called iWork (says Kimball:
I’ve never seen a shoddier release. The fate of particular pieces of word processing and spreadsheet software may not much signify much in the world at large. But among the population of people who use and depend on it, there is grave unhappiness. Apple really messed up on this, and it is interesting if unedifying to ask what it portends about the giant company’s future.
…), and this new Apple HQ building that now has the go-ahead:
… are somehow connected.
It seems that Steve Jobs himself was responsible for setting this particular architectural wheel in motion.
Instapundit reckons Apple only did their shambolic software launch just now to make Obamacare look better, arf arf. But there is a more serious point to be made about this comparison. The difference between the public sector and the private sector is not that the private sector never screws up, as this Apple screw-up illustrates. And it is most certainly not that the public sector never builds itself dysfunctionally lavish buildings. The difference is that as and when the private sector screws up, it suffers. Money is lost. In this case, Apple market share is being lost even as I blog this. Apple will either sort this iWork mess out quick, or watch a lot of people move over to Microsoft.
If a custom built headquarters causes a private sector screw-up, as I surmise may just have happened to Apple, the building may then get sold on to other more capable people, or be partly rented out, to cut costs.
When the government screws up, taxpayers will foot the bill both for the screw-up and for all the money they then throw at it to unscrew the screw-up, and as likely as not the people who presided over the screw-up will end up with even bigger buildings to luxuriate in.
To escape Obamacare, your only hope is kayak.com. I watched the whole of that Saturday Night Live skit last night on Youtube, but now, Youtube refuses to play it to me, what with me not living in the USA. But trust me, it’s very funny. Will the BBC ever show it, I wonder?
My starting position is that anyone should be able to do anything he wants on land he owns, as long as it does not initiate violence against someone else.
From Brian’s post about a bridge, to a site called Dezeen, to an interview with the architect of a building in London called the Cheesegrater. One side of the building is slanted, which must reduce the total floor space, but why?
The main constraint on Leadenhall was the view to St Paul’s [Cathedral]. London is unique in being partly controlled by views; you have to leave certain views open to St Paul’s and we were on one of those views. So we made use of this and we cut it back at an angle and that gave us that prominent section and profile, [which can be seen] from all over London.
So London imposes planning rules that control views. This makes me wonder: can I own a view? In some sense if I am using the view I have homesteaded it. If my neighbour spoils my view by building something in front of it, he has made me less wealthy. Would I be right to sue him? Can we abolish planning without spoiling anyone’s views?