When Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier completed his somewhat unorthodox plans for one of the most iconic examples of twentieth-century religious architecture back in 1954, the idea that this complex design would one day be modelled from a digital file and a machine, couldn’t be any further from the designer’s self-proclaimed primitive and sculptural style.
Famed for its geometrically challenging organic form and ability to frustrate architects and model makers decades after its completion, Le Corbusier’s chapel “Notre Dame du Haut”, more commonly known as Ronchamp, has proved incredibly difficult for model makers to accurately replicate.
In fact, it is such a particular and well-known form, that when modelled inaccurately, it is very obvious. After seeing many model makers suffer the same fate as the builders that constructed the original building located on the hill of Bourlémont near Belfort in Eastern France, London based, 3D printing studio, Digits2Widgets (D2W) set itself the challenge of creating the most accurate model of the chapel ever produced, with the aid of 3D printing.
“We do an awful lot of work for architects,” explained Jonathan Rowley, Design Director at D2W and an Architect too. “What we wanted to do was produce an absolutely exquisite architectural model that was 100% 3D printed and would illustrate all of the things that architects should be thinking about if they’re looking to use 3D printing to produce models.”
Some of those key points include understanding the 3D print materials that are most appropriate for the project and then designing a CAD model that provides all of the key detail for the scale you’re producing the model and at a scale the selected 3D printer will be able to reproduce. These are the same modelling design decisions that have always had to be made. The advent of CAD and 3D printing don’t change this. It’s the Architectural backgrounds and experience running industrial 3D printing equipment that enabled D2W to make these judgements, which allowed the printers to do their very best.
“We wanted to reproduce a building that was very challenging and that would display all of the joy of using CAD in order to produce a very accurate model of something complicated,” Jonathan added.
Joining the D2W team at the right time, Rhino wizard and highly experienced Architectural model maker, Bart Radecki, was set the task of producing a CAD model of Ronchamp. Using original plans from a book dating back to the 1950s featuring Le Corbusier’s hand-written notes, Bart was able to translate these original designs into a base model. What makes this such an interesting project, is that the initial designs and notes do not resemble the chapel that stands on the hill today. Created in an organic fashion, (partly built from the rubble of a church that originally stood on the site and was destroyed during WW2) and making changes along the way, the actual building was made in a way that meant even the original builders were required to make it up as they went along. Using this information, the base design was then adjusted using thousands of photographs to get the CAD model looking as close to the real building as possible.
Architectural model maker, Bart Radecki, used Le Corbusier’s original hand-written notes and thousands of photographs to create an accurate CAD model.
Exploiting the capabilities of CAD, Radecki was able to include information about the building’s distinctive textures. Rather than simply choosing to recreate the building’s exact geometries, a texture map was produced to mimic the building’s rough exterior and draped over exact areas of the design.
“So many people still have their minds so blown with the fact that 3D printers will make them a shape that they’re not actually paying very much attention to how much you can also influence the surface texture,” Jonathan explained. “All of the joy and brilliance of 3D printing is in the CAD file. The printer is just a machine that whoever’s designing needs to understand and then when you’ve married those two together you can get something pretty special.”
The entire CAD production process took around two weeks to complete, including not just a completely accurate exterior but also the incredibly detailed interior with the model being created in four parts in order to reveal those all-important details. The base site was 3D printed in multicolour whereas the main body of the building was printed in a single Nylon SLS piece. The roof was separated from the whole CAD model in order for it to be removable
to reveal the inner details and a final piece, a small water trough that catches rainwater at the rear of the chapel, was dyed grey.
The complete model will be on display at this year’s TCT Show + Personalize (Stand H23) and the studio is also in talks with a London museum to introduce the model into their shop as a new form of on demand retail. In comparison to traditional hand-crafting methods, this technique is both quicker and potentially more accurate, demonstrating one of the positive benefits of 3D printing but Jonathan says prizing “3D printing” into just about any project, simply for the sake of being 3D printed, isn’t something the company is particularly interested in.
“I don’t show this model to anyone and try to impress them by the fact that it’s 3D printed. It stands on its own as just an exquisite model, 3D printing is irrelevant,” Jonathan commented. “It’s not a great 3D printed model, it’s a great architectural model that just happens to have been 3D printed.”
It’s not just architects that are knocking at the Camden company’s doors to benefit from this technology and the company has made the consorted effort to build up a team of in-house experts from areas like gaming, industrial design, jewellery, model making and of course architecture, to ensure that customers are getting the right knowledge about how 3D printing can, or indeed may not, benefit them.
“We just need people to understand what it can do today,” Jonathan concludes. “That’s where people are getting confused, they’re reading all of these stories that really should be written 15 years from now and expecting it to be like that today. We just want to be clear and get people to understand what it can do for you today. Today is important, the future is fun but we’ll never get to the future if today isn’t useful.”