This past week, the long awaited MX3D Bridge, the first 3D printed bridge, was unveiled in Amsterdam across the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. The pedestrian bridge, which commenced six years ago, has been ‘fabricated from stainless steel rods by six-axis robotic arms equipped with welding gear’ in a factory and craned onto site (Dezeen, 19 July 2021). This innovative structure embodies the evolution of fabrication and craftsmanship whilst also creating a curious precedent for pushing the boundaries of architecture and what this might mean for the future of the historic urban environment.
A familiar construction
The bridge is constructed of stainless steel and as such, juxtaposes against the existing pallet of brick, stucco and stone – that is prominent along the waterfront – in a way that recalls the 18th and 19th century Industrial Revolution. This era had an unapologetic use of exposed wrought and cast iron and its significance in the English built environment resulted in rapidly developed and transformed cities, societal changes and new architectural forms (Britannica, 21 July, 2021).
Historic examples from this movement throughout England include the Bridge over the River Sever in Shropshire (1779), the Royal Pavilion in Brighton (1818-21), and Crystal Palace in London (built in 1851, demolished 1936) amongst many others. Despite the resistance against industrialisation due to its divergence from traditional craftsmanship, the benefits of this time are still felt and appreciated in architecture today – as evidenced in the creation of the MX3D Bridge.
Modern architecture now has new roles to fulfil to realise these types of structures
In this regard, the ambitions that have driven the success of the MX3D Bridge in Amsterdam echo’s the narrative of the 18th century Industrial Revolution via its machine operated and robotic technology. In doing so, the role of the modern architect has been redefined where this now largely includes coding and software design as well as craftsmanship.
That being said, this leads to question the contemporary role of the craftsman and its place within architecture, and how this ongoing narrative may further omit this trade and the repercussions this may have on the future of the historic environment. On the other hand, what has been created in Amsterdam is a unique and engaging precedent for how innovations in technology can help create a distinctively modern way of interacting with existing built forms.
How did they produce the 3D printed surface texture?
The 3D printed surface created a texture that, arguably, has not been experienced in the built environment yet. The texture is created by the welding and layering of metal that has created small and tight ridges and as such the surface is left as it is. There is an authenticity and honesty in this texture that is created by this new technique, one that communicates the contemporary and distinctively modern approach to its construction.
A new era for architecture and construction, with inspiration from the Industrial Revolution
In sum, there is a revival of the 18th and 19th century movement via the reimagination of the limitations of steel construction in our high-tech world and as such, is an exciting innovative step forward in the realm of architecture. The materiality and the mode of construction are distinctively of their time and as a result would engender curious and engaging interactions with the existing historic environment.