Architecture is undergoing a paradigm shift as a result of the digital revolution.

The Third Industrial Revolution and Its Impact on Architecture

An article in Architect: The Journal of the American Institute of Architects points out that the characteristics of the Third Industrial Revolution are likely to have a revolutionary effect on the way architecture is conceived and practiced.

As the article observes, economist Jeremy Rifkin, in the book The Third Industrial Revolution, cites three central elements as integral to the Third Industrial Revolution.

First, it will manifest as a smaller scale fabrication versus the large-scale manufacturing plants that characterized the Second Industrial Revolution.

Second, networked, more collaborative companies will replace the hierarchical companies of the Second Industrial Revolution.

Third, goods will move globally via digital methods - networks and files - as well as via the older methods of physical movement, via shipping, trucking, trains, and airplanes.

As the article's author, Thomas Fisher, points out, if the dominant icon of the Second Industrial Revolution is the steam engine, the dominant icon of the Third Industrial Revolution might well be the 3D printer.

The 3D Printer: Leading the Revolution

The 3D printer is having a major impact on architecture in the age of the Third Industrial Revolution.

First, 3D printers enable all the characteristics of the Third Industrial Revolution:

  • smaller scale fabrication
  • networking
  • digital flow of goods
3D printers are used to develop architectural models, of course. But they are also being used to construct entire buildings. A British designer, Alastair Parvin, has created an open source, low-cost house, in part, to provide an example of how comparatively simple it is for people to create a house from a 3D printer with no tools and no background in construction.

They can access the file from a computer and print the parts from a 3D printer. The parts are designed to make a rectangular home with a gable roof.

In many 3D homes, the printed parts are combined with concrete and steel reinforcements to arrive at the final building. A Dutch-Italian collaboration, Landscape House, will be approximately half 3D printed material and half traditional materials.

3D printing also opens up the possibility of mass customization as the wave of the future, much as mass consumption was the wave of the twentieth century. Once homes can be designed and built via 3D printing, the ability to develop flexible models is close behind.

In addition, many objects in homes can be customized very easily via 3D printing. Architectural Digest, for example, points out that home furnishings can be accessed and printed that are as easy to change as opening e-mail.

Revolutions and More Revolutions

As much as 3D printing and its uses in architecture track with the characteristics of the Third Industrial Revolution, even closer conformance to those characteristics might be coming. While 3D printers make possible small-scale fabrication, networking, and digital transfer, the ownership of 3D printers is still far from widespread.

The digital revolution in architecture has thus not only begun, it's ongoing.