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3D printed glass!

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.

10 comments to 3D printed glass!

  • Russ in TX

    SERIOUSLY cool stuff. I had been told for years that glass wasn’t sufficiently strong to be an architectural material. If that’s incorrect, then… wow. Can’t wait to see.

  • Joe Wooten

    If solar PV is approaching economic viability, then let’s remove ALL the subsidies and exemptions and see just how close to viability it is. Same for the windmills.

    I think your techy friends are blowing smoke. Just based upon the maximum capacity factor (~ 50% in June/July), it will never be competitive with coal/gas/nuclear.

  • Sigivald

    We sort of already have this – we can 3d print waxes, and then do lost-wax glass casting.

    This will be more efficient, and also more expensive.

    (To reply to Russ’s comment, glass is very strong, and is used architecturally for things like floors with some regularity; it’s just expensive and heavy.

    I share the lack of sanguineness on “3d printing glass buildings” within, well, my lifetime. The annealing difficulties alone are awkward. And if you’re doing it in repeated pieces and assembling on site, you’d probably get better results by casting your pieces; 3d printing is great for one-offs and prototyping. It’s not-super-awesome for mass production.)

  • Runcie Balspune

    I often wonder why I still pay over £200 for varifocal lenses, which are not even glass nowadays.

  • Nicholas (Rule Yourselves!) Gray

    Gosh, the revenge of the feminists- we’ll ALL have glass ceilings! Oh, woe is us!

  • Laird

    I’m more interested in 3D printed chocolate!

  • Paul Marks

    Some people believe that new technologies, such as “three D. printing” in various materials, will cause a fundamental socio-economic transformation of society.

    Some of these people, friends of the person-in-Kent spring to mind, combine this theory with the historical theory that the industrial revolution was caused by “state intervention” and that “the capitalists” would not exist without this historic state intervention.

    However, it is also possible to hold the position that I suspect that Brian holds.

    Namely that factory owners in the past were not the creation of “state intervention”, but were a sensible and necessary way of using the technology they helped to create and develop – BUT that future technological development may render concentrations of the ownership of capital unnecessary, even inefficient.

    So that a natural process caused the rise of large scale, concentrated, factory production and ownership – and that the development of new technology may cause a transformation AWAY from the large scale concentration of production and ownership.

    And Brian may be correct in the position I suspect he holds.

  • Mr Ed

    the development of new technology may cause a transformation AWAY from the large scale concentration of production and ownership.


    When ‘I pencil‘ becomes quaintly obsolete, that day will have arrived.

  • Richard Thomas

    Brian, did you really mean the next century? I’m hopeful for some advances but sadly I think that’s stretching it at the moment.

  • Runcie Balspune

    may cause a transformation AWAY from the large scale concentration of production and ownership

    Just popping down to the retailer to get some more plastic wire so I can make stuff, in my 3d printed car I made using … ah wait.