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« Sustainability, Culture and Innovation in the Workplace | Main | Tech Trends of 2016: Virtual Reality, No Longer Sci-fi »

Tech Trends of 2016: 3D Printing

Image © Gensler

Editor’s note: this blog is part of a series on 2016 tech trends.

Freedom to Customize

The 3D printing revolution is well underway. According to a recent Forbes article, Siemens predicts that 3D printing will become 50% cheaper and up to 400% faster in the next five years. The advantages to 3D printing (lower costs, speed, and customization) will impact tech workspaces on both a small and large scale – from the building itself to everything that goes in it (desks, chairs, light fixtures, etc). With the recent completion of the world’s first 3D printed office in Dubai–designed by Gensler–it’s inevitable that, in the near future, we will be designing our client’s 3D printed spaces with 3D printed furnishings and fixtures. Designers will need to tap into their inner “maker” to collaborate on ideas, experiment with different materials, and systematically think through designs and how the pieces fit together.

This Gensler designed 3D printed office building in Dubai demonstrates how 3D printing is changing the way buildings are constructed. Image © Gensler

Impact on the Design Process

With the decrease in production and build times, long-lead items that typically take months to manufacture could instead take weeks, avoiding major project delays. The phasing of a project could redistribute time once allotted for construction to the design phase, which would give designers more time to spend crafting. Tech companies and design teams could partner to become makers of their spaces, coming up with unique designs tailored to their demands.

Unique Approach to Materials

Designers will need to think outside the box, not just in terms of design, but also when considering material selection. Companies, like San Francisco-based Emerging Objects , have been experimenting with traditional materials like acrylic, ceramic, nylon, wood and non-traditional materials such as tea, salt and chocolate. The innovative use of locally sourced materials could result in more cost-effective and sustainable design solutions.

Gensler frequently uses 3D models to prototype and visualize design elements, like this custom translucent ceiling element. Image © Gensler

More Flexibility in Workspaces

3D printers could provide cost-effective, customizable and quick solutions for incorporating new office designs and ever-evolving technology into existing spaces. As tech companies grow, their work modes change with them. An open office layout may work for a company initially, but what if they want to provide more focus and quiet spaces? Potentially, walls could be printed to provide more enclosed space. This would allow companies to modify their office during each stage of their development. Tech companies could also use this technology to adapt their spaces when new technology enters the market. General contractors and design teams will need to work together to develop flexible, 3D printable options that meet ratios and brand aesthetics and are also code compliant.

Legal and Ethical Concerns

Legal and intellectual property issues are bound to arise in the era of 3D printing. Questions of ownership, liability and protection of data are legitimate concerns. We will have to wait and see if designers and manufacturers take an open source or closed source approach to sharing their designs. In the meantime, designers and owners will need to be aware of intellectual property rights, how they might be infringed and what resolutions are available.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that 3D printing will change the world as we know it. As technology advances further, as larger printers and more printable materials become available, it seems that the opportunities are endless. The Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, couldn’t have said it better. According to Architectural Digest, Sheikh Mohammed said at the grand opening of the world’s first 3D printed office, “The future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it.”

Natalie re-imagines the workplace experience. A Design Director and regional leader of Gensler’s Technology practice, Natalie teams with clients to improve their business by designing for the workforce of the future; helping to attract and keep the next generation of employees. Contact her at natalie_engels@gensler.com.
Kristin helps shine a light on the amazing people and projects in San Jose. A PR and Marketing Specialist, she crafts compelling content on the latest in workplace design. Contact her at kristin_quirozbayona@gensler.com .