The Fifth Façade


With its promise of free-form fabrication, Additive Manufacturing challenges traditional construction methods, their phases and timelines. Architectural elements created with these technologies can be now understood as parts of single holistic designs. Planning and design, fabrication, construction and assembly can now be controlled by a single agent that can have a general vision and overview. Thanks to the intelligence that the designer can embed in the design, it’s now possible to comply with most of the requirements that architecture demands. Now the challenges of enclosing a space, climatic control, and structural properties can now be solved within a single well-designed unit. 

Our modern understanding of architectural components and construction systems allows us to recognize buildings as a collection of elements and materials that when working together solve the basic comfort needs of interior spaces. 3D printing challenges that statement deeply as it offers, at least, the possibility to design and fabricate elements that deal with and solve two or more comfort exigencies, sometimes even outperforming classical and traditional constructive systems. 

When dealing with the fifth façade, vernacular earth construction tends to seek materials and elements that can solve and be used efficiently to cover horizontal spans. This switch of materials allows earth to work primarily under compression, avoiding altogether the need to work against gravity and the intrinsic tension that horizontal elements are required to support. 

One of the objectives of the research phase is to define the feasibility and design of horizontal elements created via 3D printing and a monomaterial (or not) approach. Current fabrication techniques and material optimization can be now used to rethink those horizontal elements with a single holistic design. Will then the specificity of the material allow it?

Extrusion-based additive manufacturing processes have intrinsic constraints when dealing with gravitational forces exerted during the fabrication procedure. The viscous rheology of the material needed for successful extrusions does not allow, at least in earth 3D printing, in-situ consolidation. That creates inevitable challenging conditions for covering horizontal spans. Other concepts no less important like retraction of the material, scaffolding and consolidation of the beads need to be addressed and taken into consideration to achieve enclosed successful 3D printed structures. 

Topic of work 

3DPA Research 2022-23 will deal with the fabrication of horizontal, semi-horizontal spans and covered spaces. After W03 – Structure, students already have gathered knowledge on what geometries and typologies can be achieved with single surface elements, with a basic understanding and prediction capabilities of structural behaviors of their printed specimens. This phase aims to add wall thickness to the previous explorations and test the limit of gravity with our specific additive manufacturing process. The usage of earth as a base material, poses some challenges that need deep, targeted and direct research in fields like:

  • Fiber reinforcements
  • Support & Scaffolding during consolidation 
  • Rigidity and Stiffness via Geometry 
  • Post-tensioning and/or wet-state tensioning


In addition, all research projects are expected to include in some degree, research in the fields of design for additive manufacturing, material development and material weight reduction, updates on machine and extrusion processes,  prefabrication sets and off-site construction, wet-state actuations and inserts and finally, new computational developments and workflows. 



Research refers to the systematic method consisting of enunciating a problem, formulating a hypothesis, collecting facts and data, analysing the facts and reaching certain conclusions either in the form of solution(s) towards the concerned problem, or in certain generalisations for a theoretical formulation. The research process can validate -or not- preconceived notions about specific topics. In our case scenario, students will be asked to perform rigorous work to evaluate their research outcomes, gaining knowledge after every experiment and test print before assuming performance.   


Students will work in groups to be able to achieve the goals of the research studio. Following classical learning by experimenting methods and design-driven innovation, students will be asked to demonstrate their hypothesis via exploration and analysis, mostly through prototyping. Each group will have access to a desktop printer to conduct their small-scale (1:10) research and prototypes. Students will be autonomous with the usage of these printers and its maintenance. At a later research stage, students will have access to robots for producing larger test samples and specimens in 1:3.


3DPA students might need to develop experimental setups within IAAC facilities, in both physical and digital to validate and demonstrate their research agendas: 

Physical Analysis 

Existing experimental setup: 

  • Geometrical Deformation (with Calliper or 3D scanning / Photogrammetry)
  • Water content (with precise scale)
  • Dripping test (visual quality + Weight loss)
  • Compressive / Flexural Strength analysis (with crash test) 
  • Thermal analysis (with Thermal camera, laser measurements)
  • Heat Chamber (with heat lamp and temperature sensors)
  • Light Analysis (with camera and light sensors) 

Digital Analysis

Digital analysis and simulation: 

  • Geometrical Analysis (Gh) 
  • Rainwater simulation (Gh)
  • Sun Analysis (LadyBug)
  • Structural Analysis (Karamba)
  • Light Analysis (Render / Honey Bee)
  • CFD analysis (Rhino CFD, Autodesk CFD) 

During the eight weeks of the research, follow up sessions will happen on fridays. All along this period, several computational and drawing scenarios pills are planned as well. Students will have access to support hours for discussing both physical and digital topics. Tutors will be available as well for extra 1 on 1 sessions in critical moments. 

Learning Objectives

At course completion the student will:

  1. Formulate a research question and research agenda in an innovative field. 
  2. Interpret data from Physical testing and propose decisions taken by data analysis. 
  3. Gain critical thinking about the additive manufacturing process and structural solicitations. 
  4. Understand Structural behaviours in 3d Printing at a deeper level, incorporating structural logics in the design of geometries for  additive manufacturing.
  5. Get familiar with structural analysis with the Finite Element Method (FEM) and interpret data from FEM analysis. 
  6. Propose new digital workflows in design for additive manufacturing processes.


Faculty Assistants

Projects from this course

Tension networks using natural fibers as support for 3D printing with earth

Table of Contents — ABSTRACT To deal with the fifth façade, vernacular earth construction introduces different materials to cover horizontal spans. This switch of materials allows the earth to work primarily under compression, avoiding altogether the need to work against gravity and the intrinsic tension that horizontal elements require to be supported.  This research follows … Read more

Optimised placement and orientation of fibers to support earth 3d printed cantilevers in the wet state

The research aims to take an advantage of the knowledge from the past and integrate with today’s technology to construct novel and complex forms. The intention is to integrate fibers during the 3d printing process to support the cantilevers in wet state as well as find the optimized method to lay the fibers. This method … Read more

Fibre Reinforcement and Optimised Material Extrusion in 3D printed Clay Cantilevers to Improve Printability and Stability during Printing

Hypothesis Abstract Seen by some as a novel construction technique, earth 3D printing is a promising digital fabrication method trying to eliminate the transport of building materials as much as possible. The main biomaterial lies just beneath our feet: earth. Although large creative freedom comes with digital fabrication, many challenges that are specific to 3D … Read more

Network of ribs as free-form space enclosing

What are the possibilities of enclosing a free-form space? The study reflects how geometry design will enhance the structural possibilities of increasing the maximum cantilevering degree of printing an enclosing surface. Applicability could be translated in printing projects above existent constructions and/or free-form developments. The research was coagulated into two distinct parts, the exploratory phase, … Read more

Rigidity Via Geometry: Embedding Structural Intelligence within 3D Printed Vaulted Structures

Rigidity: The extent to which an element is able to resist deformation or deflection  under the action of an applied force. Abstract Architectural history contains numerous examples of vaulted  structures built using a variety of design techniques and a range of materials, to serve or host different functions. One recurring function is the role of … Read more

Adaptive Support System: Retraction Control in Arched Vaults

Nader Akoum Architecture 3d Printing Earth

Support & scaffolding during consolidation of clay printing are quintessential to push the boundaries and capabilities of earthen architecture because, with said added support, opportunities for large spans, high arches, aggregated arches, and other structural phenomena arise. The options invented over time are diverse and, regardless of the used material, they can be very insightful … Read more