The fact that a form of technology is widely available does not automatically make its user an artisan or a designer. Technology dictating the final piece makes it an expression of that particular technology, rather than an innovative design. Take 3D printing: ring designs can be downloaded from the internet, customised and printed. But that doesn’t necessarily signify a meaningful evolution in jewellery. Instead, it is more likely to re-establish the typical 3D-printed gadget aesthetic, increasing the number of short-lived, unnecessary goods present in the world.
In contrast, there are many inspiring cases where 3D-printing provides the sole solution to an otherwise unsolvable design challenge. For instance, Gaudì’s Basilica Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
In 1882, the ingenious architect knew he was not to survive the completion of, what is to become, the tallest church on Earth. Gaudì was aware that he had envisioned and designed incredibly complex shapes, impossible to construct without clear instructions. He therefore spent all of his time crafting accurate plaster models for future generations to use as a guide. It so happens that the site was hit during the Civil War in the 1930s and all the models were destroyed. Fragments were collected and painstakingly mapped, but no significant progress seemed to be made in piecing together the overall puzzle – until the 1970s. A young, New Zealand architect called Mark Burry undertook the task of reverse-engineering the fragments, using state of the art 3D-modeling and computer graphics. Over the last twenty years, the switch from using handcrafted plaster models to 3D-printed prototypes has occurred, enabling construction work to speed up significantly. There is hope for the completion of the building within the next ten years!
It is argued that Gaudì was a century ahead of his time and that computers are allowing us to get closer to his vision – more than any other artisanal means he might have used. The overwhelming power of Sagrada Familia's disruptive architecture is tangible to anyone confronted with the colossal building. Even if those who experience it are not devote Catholics like Gaudì, a sense of divinity seems to emanate from its walls and technology has played a key role in enabling such vision to become a reality, 140 years later.