Architectural Detail and 3D Printing

Pixelated Ionic Doric and Corinthian OrdersWhy doesn’t my local grocery store look like the Cathedral of Notre Dame? Or the Sagrada Familia? It sounds like a silly question. The great cathedrals of Europe took centuries to construct and untold riches and labor to create. In contrast, the Big Box grocery store is erected with some slabs of concrete and some steel girders. 20th century architecture brought us very minimalist design aesthetics like Brutalism. This type of modern architecture became popular not because of its beauty, but because of its price. But I think that might change in the next hundred years. Innovations like 3D printing and CNC routing make it possible for machines to create rich architectural details. As the price of such machines come down, so will the cost of elaborate designs.

One of my biggest criticisms of 20th century architecture is its stark, unadorned nature. As a designer, I understand and appreciate minimalism. But I think that the Midcentury Modern movement went too far. As mass production and prefabrication took hold over the world, it became both economical and fashionable to build things out of unadorned concrete, glass and steel. But now we have computer controlled machines that can make almost any shape on demand. I suspect we’ll soon see a return to intricate detail. As a digital artist, I welcome such innovation wholeheartedly.

The rise of automation and artificial intelligence will affect every industry, but some will be hit harder than others. Watch any episode of “This Old House” and you’ll see how much manual labor it takes to build a house. Still, automation is changing the construction industry. “This Old House” has done a couple of series on prefab housing, and they’re always showing off the latest tech. I think there will always be people willing to pay for hand-crafted details. But for those of us who can’t afford it, computer aided manufacturing may make our world just a bit more beautiful.

Do you think that 3D printing and CNC routing will lead to a revival of highly adorned architecture? Or do you think the simpler look is here to stay? Let me know in the comments.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs regularly at

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1 Response

  1. February 18, 2017

    […] physical objects? Thanks to computer aided design programs like Autocad, it’s now possible to create three-dimensional objects in the computer. Then you can contract out the production to a factory in China. This is what the […]

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