The Shanghai Urban Space Art Season (SUSAS) 2017 exhibits worldwide outstanding cases of waterfront area and public area regeneration to discuss the future of waterfront areas in Shanghai. Amongst the displayed works in the main exhibition is the project “Digital Metal Pavilion” built by students of the Master of Advanced Studies ETH in Architecture and Digital Fabrication (MAS ETH DFAB).

“Digital Metal Pavilion” is a space frame structure with non-repetitive custom metal joints which were cast using 3D printed moulds. It offers a unique way of thinking about digital tools, their implication, application and meaning for architecture and construction.

First architectural structure featuring hybrid metal casts fabricated using 3D printed moulds
The process of shaping metal with 3D printed moulds enabled the fabrication of metal joints with complex inner and outer features. The students of the MAS ETH DFAB 2016/17 investigated the opportunities and current limitations of this method for architecture by designing and building a space-frame structure which consists of over 200 customised metal joints and of over 400 meters of off-the-shelf aluminium-profiles. Specific algorithms were developed to generate the space frame structure and its joints, taking structural and fabrication constraints into account. All the aluminium profiles were cut to the required length using a simple robotic setup which increased the level of automation during the fabrication process.

A promising approach for the bespoke fabrication of large, geometrically complex metal parts
The project Digital Metal Pavilion originates from the research in digital metal conducted by Dr. Mania Aghaei Meibodi from the Chair of NCCR principal investigator Benjamin Dillenburger. The research investigates how 3D printing can be combined with the thousand-year old fabrication method of casting metal. By combining the geometric freedom of 3D printing with the structural properties of cast metal, the underlying research makes the production of geometrically complex metal parts possible and affordable.

Recent advances in 3D printing metal are significant. However, for the application in the building industry, the technology still has some shortcomings, such as small construction volumes, high production costs, long printing times, the limited range of printable metal, and limited material properties. Instead of 3D printing the final metal parts, the research by ETH Zurich’s Digital Building Technologies Group therefore uses 3D printing to fabricate sand moulds which then can be used to cast bespoke metal parts. The Digital Metal Pavilion beautifully demonstrates the potential of this method for architecture.

More information about the student project can be found on the website of the MAS ETH DFAB and on the website of the Digital Building Technologies Group. The pavilion will be exhibited in Shanghai until the 1st of January 2018. All information about the exhibition is available on the exhibition website.

Involved students of the MAS ETH DFAB 2016/17:
Marco Caprani, Samuel Cros, Rodrigo Díaz, Ahmed Elshafei, Federico Giacomarra, Hakim Hasan, Marirena Kladeftira, Iacovina Kontiza, Thodoris Kyttas, Matthias Leschok, Coralie Ming, Wataru Nagatomo, Matteo Pacher, Maria Pachi, Sambit Samant, Theodora Spathi, Dai-Syuan Wu

The MAS ETH DFAB is jointly organised by the Digital Building Technologies Group and Gramazio Kohler Research at ETH Zurich.

Project tutors:
Dr. Mania Aghaei Meibodi (Project lead), Prof. Dr. Benjamin Dillenburger, Rena Giesecke

Sponsors and collaborators of the Digital Metal Pavilion
DGS Druckguss-Systeme AG
Aluminium – Laufen AG Liesberg
Aluminium-Verband Schweiz
Christenguss AG

Photo credit: Demmetris Shammas, Digital Building Technologies Group, ETH Zurich