Inside Digital Grotesque II, Imprimer le monde, Centre Pompidou, grotto
Digital Grotesque II at Imprimer le monde, Centre Pompidou
Grotto II at Centre Pompidou


Digital Grotesque II - a full-scale 3D printed grotto - has premiered at Centre Pompidou’s 'Imprimer le monde' exhibition. This highly ornamental grotto, with 1.35 billions surfaces, is purely designed by algorithms. It is materialized out of 7 tons of printed sandstone. It heralds a highly immersive architecture with a hitherto unseen richness of detail.

The angles and perspectives by which the spectator can observe the grotto were simulated during the design process, and the form was then optimized to present highly differentiated and diverse geometries that forge a rich and stimulating spatial experience for the observer.

A subdivision algorithm was devised to exploit the 3D printer’s full potential by creating topologically complex, porous, multi-layered structures with spatial depth. A single volume spawns millions of branches, growing and folding again and again. Hundreds of square meters are compressed into a 3.5m high block that forms an organic landscape between the man-made and the natural.

Digital Grotesque II is a testament to and celebration of a new kind of architecture that leaves behind traditional paradigms of rationalization and standardization and instead emphasizes the viewer's perception, evoking curiosity and bewilderment.

Video: Digital Grotesque II - Preview


Digital Grotesque II - bottom layer of grotto
Digital Grotesque II - 3D printed architectural detail
Digital Grotesque II - 3D printed component
Digital Grotesque II - grotto detail
Digital Grotesque II - 3D printed architecture detail
Details of printed components

Can we fabricate more than we can design?

Today, it appears we can fabricate anything. Digital fabrication now functions at both the micro and macro scales, combining multiple materials, and using different materialization processes. Complexity and customization are no longer impediments in design.

While we can fabricate anything, design arguably appears confined by our instruments of design: we can only design what we can directly represent. Are we unable to exploit the new freedom that digital fabrication offers us?

In Digital Grotesque II, we sought to develop new design instruments. We viewed the computer not as parametric system of control and execution, but rather as a tool for search and exploration. The computer was a partner in design who proposed an endless number of permutations, many of which were unforeseeable and surprising. Further, the computer was able to evaluate its generated forms in respect to an observer's spatial experience. It learned to evolve these forms to maximize their richness of detail and the number of different perspectives they offered.

As of yet, we've been using computers to increase our efficiency and precision. Why not see them as our muse, as partner in design, or as a tool to expand our imagination? Digital Grotesque II pursues these directions.

Video: Design development of grotto

Digital Grotesque II - base of grotto design development
Digital Grotesque II - design development of column
Design development of grotto

Fabrication and Assembly

The use of 3D printing technology in architecture has up to now been limited to prototyping and producing small-scale models. Material costs are high, machines have limited scales, and the majority of materials are not strong and durable enough to fulfill construction requirements.

Sand-printing technology has recently emerged as an additive manufacturing technique that overcomes these limitations. This technology was developed to prdouce casting forms in for industrial applications. Yet it has unique features that make it suitable to the fabrication of architectural components. Specifically, it allows the fabrication of large-scale elements (currently up to 8 cubic meters in size) with a high resolution and accuracy at a competitive price and in short period of time. Printed sandstone elements are fully self-supporting and can be assembled as a solid construction.

3D sand-printing process
Surface coating
Bottom layer of grotto, assembly at ETH Zurich
Printed components
Assembly of 3D printed components, Digital Grotesque II
Component assembly

Inside the space

Standing in front of the Grotto, one is struck by a hitherto unseen richness of detail that is at times overwhelming. Millions of differentiated facets unfold in space, creating an architecture of a thousand unique perspectives.

This project of radically manifests the disruptive potential of computational design and digital fabrication. It is a testament and celebration of a new kind of architecture that leaves behind traditional paradigms of rationalization and standardization and instead evokes the viewer's marvel, curiosity and bewilderment.

Imprimer le monde, Centre Pompidou, grotto
Image: Fabrice Dall'Anese
Imprimer le monde, Centre Pompidou, Digital Grotesque II
Image: Demetris Shammas