Using salt harvested directly from San Francisco Bay, architecture think-tank and additive manufacturing research team Emerging Objects has now 3D printed a pavilion to demonstrate cutting edge construction methods.
"It's an experiment in 3D printing using locally harvested salt from the San Francisco Bay to produce a large-scale, lightweight, additive manufactured structure," said Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello. "The salt is harvested from 109-year-old salt crystallization ponds in Redwood City. These ponds are the final stop in a five-year salt-making process that involves moving bay water through a series of evaporation ponds. In these ponds the highly saline water completes evaporation, leaving 8-12 inches of solid crystallized salt that's then harvested for industrial use."
Some 500,000 tons of sea salt are culled from the bay each year, and most of the process is completed using solar and wind power. Inexpensive compared to commercially available 3D printing materials, the salt innovation is capable of rendering robust, lightweight components.
While the firm says their pavilion is the first to be printed from salt, they add that it is but a step to a larger goal.
"No one has ever 3D printed a building out of salt," Rael said. "But there's a long tradition of architecture constructed of salt blocks, particularly in the Middle East and in desert environments."
Comprised of 336 translucent panels, the parts for the final structure were made with a powder-based 3D printing process as a layer of salt is applied and solidified with a binding agent before the next layer of salt is deposited on the part.
Rael said the panels were then connected together to form a rigid shell and supported with flexed, lightweight aluminum rods like those used in some tents.
And yes, it does look quite a bit like an igloo.
"The form of the Saltygloo is drawn from the forms found in the Inuit igloos," Rael said. "The translucent qualities of the material, a product of the fabrication process and the natural properties of salt, allow for natural light to permeate the space, highlighting the assembly and structure, and revealing the unique qualities of one of humankind's most essential minerals."
Rael added that the form of the Saltygloo arises in some measure from the shapes and forms of tools and equipment found in the ancient process of boiling brine.
Rael and his partner in Emerging Objects, Virginia San Fratello, both serve as professors of architecture and design at the University of California Berkeley and San Jose State University. The pair founded Emerging Objects six months ago to explore printing architectural designs using renewable or industrial waste resources. Their experiments in 3D printing materials extend to wood, cement and paper-based processes.
The pair says Emerging Objects is primarily focused on creating a new 3D printed architecture and on building components and furnishings in "a sustainable, inexpensive, stronger, smarter, recyclable, customizable" way.
On display at the Museum of Craft Design as part of an exhibition called New West Coast Design 2 until January 5th, 2014, the Saltygloo is the work of a team which includes Ronald Rael, Virginia San Fratello, Seong Koo Lee, Eleftheria Stavridi, Mark Kelly, Kent Wilson, Professor Mark Ganter, Ehren Tool, Kwang Min Ryu and Chaewoo Rhee.