Image Courtesy of Softkill Design/Sophia Tang
ProtoHouse encloses the planes of walls and ceiling of a cantilevered home in a web of filaments algorithmically "grown" to carry the loads.

Moving away from designing for 3D printing that emulates traditional uses of conventional materials, a London-based design group called Softkill Design is experimenting with structures using plant-based "bio-plastic" fibers that are laid down by a 3D printing process called laser "sintering," which fuses together particles by the pinpoint application of heat, rather than chemical bonding agents.

Softkill's project is ProtoHouse, which is intended to test the boundaries of large-scale 3D printing by designing with computer algorithms that micro-organize the printed material around the stresses implied by the design constraints. With the support of Materialise, a Belgian additive manufacturing company that prototypes medical devices, Softkill first produced a high-resolution prototype of a 3D printed house at a 1:33 scale.

The Softkill house moves away from compression-based 3D printing and proposes lightweight, high-resolution, optimized structures created from manageable, truck-sized pieces that can be printed in a factory for on-site assembly.

The model consists of 30 fibrous pieces that are assembled, without adhesive, into one continuous cantilevering structure. SoftKill's algorithm follows bone-growth logic to use a generative design process that combines a "particle-spring" approach to solve the design constraints of volume, live and dead loads, and foundation bearing points, along with topology-optimization algorithms for filament arrangement. In this method, particles in a volume are redistributed on principal lines of stress by calculating spring force, while the structure evolves through a procedure-based logic of connections.

What emerges is a thick layer of a porous, fibrous construct—a non-geometrical structure that is materially efficient and has a high degree of transparency and stiffness. Softkill Design is a collective that includes Nicholette Chan, Gilles Retsin, Aaron Silver and Sophia Tang.