Showcasing Nadarra: Dubai’s Spectacular 3D Printed Wall of Sand

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When it comes to 3D printing materials, the usual suspects are polymers, resins or metals, which have seen significant rise in popularity recently. Yet, ceramics are also gaining traction and one cannot ignore the underrated sand! In fact, additive manufacturing with sand is already a common practice in the automotive industry and is increasingly being adopted by the construction sector, particularly in the domain of design. Artists and designers are exploring the potential of this natural material to create a plethora of applications. Barry Wark, an architect and designer, is one such pioneer who showcased an impressive 3D-printed sand wall at the inauguration of the temporary exhibition “Tomorrow Today” at the Museum of the Future in Dubai in February 2022. This sand wall, named Nadarra, has since been expanded to augment the museum’s permanent collection.

Wark, who founded his design studio in 2017, frequently collaborates with global firms to execute projects worldwide. After working in London, he now teaches and conducts research at the University of Pennsylvania at the Weitzman School of Design. An ecological theme consistently flows throughout his works, with sustainability emerging as an overarching aesthetic across all projects. To realize this comprehensive look, Wark depends on computer-aided design options along with cutting-edge, technologically advanced production techniques. For implementing the latter, he seeks assistance from pioneers in the international industry. Wark has previously teamed up with the Rotterdam-based 3D-printing company CONCR3DE, and produced artifacts during this partnership that were displayed at the last Formnext. Wark also seems to have a fruitful association with the German firm Sandhelden, since Nadarra was constructed in collaboration with them, among other projects in the past. This Bavarian company is at the forefront of 3D printing with sand and necessary post-processing procedures. It has built a reputation with its 3D-printed bathroom furniture made from sand.

Sandhelden’s expertise was indispensable for Wark to create what he calls the “most complicated 3D-printed wall of all time”. The renewed version of Nadarra, unlike its 2022 precedent, doesn’t sport any greenery but is more impressive in terms of size. Expanded to 6×3 meters (almost 20’x10′), it now graces the museum’s permanent display. The wall features intricate detailing, resulting in an exceptional visual design. This was possible thanks to 3D printing, which enables the creation of virtually limitless geometric shapes.

3D printing was not the only technology that contributed to this work, however. Wark utilized AI software for designing the surface. Once the detailed model was successfully crafted, the wall was printed in small components and then assembled akin to a puzzle. The contractor for this phase was Sandhelden, which specializes in binder jetting technology and uses its proprietary post-processing method. The printing process bonded the sand particles of the SH-P14 quartz sand together with a binder, and was carried out using the Voxeljet VX1000.

Binder jetting allows for processing various types of sand and gravel and solid, functional structures can be achieved through post-processing. According to Wark, Nadarra can withstand up to eight sanding cycles without any loss of texture or aesthetics. Carlos del Castillo, Head of Design at Sandhelden, also emphasizes this: “Our 3D printing technology enables us to combine high-quality design with unlimited technical and aesthetic possibilities.

The environmental concept prevalent in Wark’s work is also embedded in the 3D-printed Nadarra, as 3D printing only involves the amount of materials necessary for the end product, thereby reducing waste. Moreover, the sand-based wall can be disposed of and recycled at the end of its lifecycle. “The project engages with the importance of materials and their life cycles in the built environment, employing advanced 3D printing sand technology, the parts can be fabricated, installed, and then recycled up to 8 times after use,” the Sandhelden website declares.

The 3D-printed wall uniquely visualizes the life cycle. The surface is designed to reflect natural erosion. Barry Wark thus not only references nature and its laws of weathering and erosion, but also the marks made by hand. On Nadarra, he blurs the lines between the natural and the man-made. “Motivated by the recognition that all buildings eventually erode, stain and weather, the project is designed to showcase its interconnectedness with its environment — in other words, its ecology,” Sandhelden conveys. More about Barry Wark and Nadarra can be found out HERE.

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