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Plant-waste Screens: Reclaiming Craft & the Democratization of 3D printing

Reclaiming Plant-waste Craft explores the potentially transformative role of 3D printing of plant waste materials in flood risk zones critically impacted by climate change. Across the world, various cultures have had a long tradition of constructing with natural materials often of plant and agricultural waste including vegetal fibers used for lightweight enclosures in zones prone to inundation. During the twentieth century, constructions in these locations became incrementally supplanted or juxtaposed with industrial technologies including metals and concrete panels and blocks. Such is the case of the Western Amazon, where the material culture of the palm-weave is fully supplanted with the climatically and environmentally ineffective zinc panels because they are economically more advantageous. However, due to the rising interest in sustainable construction materials, the production of panels made onsite with natural waste is on the rise. Additive manufacturing or what is colloquially known as 3D printing offers a radical turn in this manufacturing and delivery ability. This digital fabrication technology offers the capacity for onsite resourcing combined to unforeseen complex geometries through a wide range of compounds including natural waste.


Photomontage of 3D Printed micro playspace in the communal site of the Urban Indigenous Community of Leticia, by Maria Paz Gutierrez, 2018.

Consequently, such material technologies can be the source for panels that can revolutionize the environmental and structural performance of construction in enclaves under extreme climate change and sociocultural pressures. Furthermore, through democratizing the use of 3D printing onsite and local material resources we can provide an unprecedented capacity to reclaim the loss of a plant-based material craft culture. Reclaiming Plant-waste Craft explores precisely this intersection of environmental, structural, and cultural performance with bamboo, cork, and palm leaf waste compounds. The testbed for this exploration is the transnational border of the Western Amazon. This region comprises a robust material culture of plant-based building technology in riverine inundation zones which thrived for centuries. Through extensive fieldwork with the local urban indigenous communities of Leticia in Colombia, I have explored the design, cultural, and environmental boundaries of 3D printing for onsite resourcing of plant waste and a bioplastic Polylactic Acid (PLA). This research comprises the first-ever development of plant waste structural screens and multiscale evaluation of 3d printed construction panels. In this process, the transfer of technologies has been pivotal to enable new means of understanding the research. As such in addition to the current state of the art science and architectural imaging and fabrication analysis including SEM (Scanning Electron Microscopy) this investigation has challenged boundaries within architecture and scientific methods. This exploration includes incorporating imaging as CT Scanning traditionally used for live matter (e.g., brain imaging) for analyzing the 3D printing probes.


Photos of Multiscale probes of 3D printed palm-waste, cork-waste & PLA: from top-left: palm-waste powder; powdering Ball mill; powdered/milled palm-waste;  dried palm-waste; recycled PLA pellets; extruder for filament production; 3D printing cork waste & PLA; Dynamic Modulus Analyzer for 3Point bending tests; 3D printed Bamboo & PLA specimens; 3D Printed Bamboo and PLA panels; 3 Point bending panel tests; 3D printed Cork-waste wall assemblage, Maria Paz Gutierrez, 2018.

Gutierrez_Bamboo-wasteScreen_3D PrintedS

Photo of 3D printed bamboo-waste & PLA screen, Maria Paz Gutierrez, 2017. 

The research methods applied in Reclaiming Plant-waste Craft encompass Material Culture ethnography through fieldwork in Leticia, Colombia, as well as, Materials Engineering, Science, Hydrophysics, and Architecture. Through a framework that spans from the micron scale exploring the internal logic of the inner surfaces of the panels at the material specimen scale, the methods incorporated such as CT Scan imaging has never used before for this aim. These morphological-structural studies where carried in combination to scanning electron microscopy and tensile and dynamic modulus for assessing mechanical properties. 

Video: CT Scan 3D Printed Bamboo-Waste & PLA, Maria Paz Gutierrez, 2017.

This CT Scan is composed of 1500 micron scale sections of the 3D printed 3D Printed Bamboo-Waste & PLA material specimen.,


Maria Paz Gutierrez, Associate Professor of Architecture at University of California, Berkeley, is an architect and researcher focused on nature and multifunctional material organizations and 21st century environmental and socioeconomic challenges. In 2008, she founded BIOMS, an interdisciplinary research initiative intersecting architecture and science to pioneer methods for integrating principles of design and biophysics from the nano to the building scale in contexts of risk. Her recent research focuses on exploring the biophysical and cultural implication of functional natural materials and agricultural waste (mainly gels and fibers) through multiscale digital fabrication and material computation. Gutierrez is the recipient of various prestigious research grants from leading scientific organizations, including the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the area of sustainable building systems innovation. 

You can learn more about Maria's work on her Website.

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