Queen Máxima unveils World’s first 3D-printed steel footbridge in Amsterdam.
The award-winning design, developed by Dutch technology start-up MX3D together with designers Joris Laarman Lab and a host of collaborators, offers a glimpse into how computational design together with state-of-the-art robotic welding technology could shape our cities in the future.
Large-scale 3D printing and digital design could forever alter the shape of the built environment around us. Amsterdam’s robot printed steel bridge is a 12-metre long digital design masterpiece with curved, raw steel balustrades that belie its high-tech origins.
Now fully 3D printed in stainless steel, the bridge is the culmination of a long-running dream that welds traditional steelwork and advanced digital modelling into an inspired, structurally sound piece of public urban infrastructure. Computational design and 3D printing come together to streamline both the design and production process, allowing designers to explore greater form freedom and shrink delivery timelines.
With Arup involved as lead structural engineer, MX3D created intelligent software that transforms welding machines into 3-D printing robots to produce a fully functional steel bridge. Advanced parametric design modelling – a tool for designers exploring new shapes using code – enabled Arup engineers to significantly fast-track the initial design process. The software can produce several iterations in quick succession until arriving at an optimal shape that offers the best solution against a set of benchmarks.
The project used 4.5tonnes of stainless steel to complete the 12.5metres long bridge.
As a design object for public use, Joris Laarman wanted MX3D to be a revolutionary piece of art, fully exploring the rational design freedom allowed by 3D printing for large-scale infrastructure. Transcending its public function as a footbridge across the Oudezijds Achterburgwal canal, MX3D serves as a proof point of how digital design tools and 3D printing may forever alter the built environment.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a novel method of manufacturing parts directly from a digital model by building layer after layer of a material. This new, high-precision technique provides opportunities and architectural freedom to designers and engineers alike, while potentially reducing the amount of materials used and wasted.
The bridge, which is over four years in the making and is led by Dutch company MX3D, will be a ‘living laboratory’ in Amsterdam’s city centre. It was unveiled a few days ago by Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.
Using its vast network of installed sensors, Imperial College London researchers will measure, monitor and analyse the performance of the novel 12-metre-long structure as it handles pedestrian traffic.
The data collected will enable researchers and engineers to measure the bridge’s ‘health’ in real time, monitor how it changes over its lifespan and understand how the public interacts with 3D-printed infrastructure.