Of late, many have been extolling the potential of 3-D printing technology, heralding it as a revolution in our means of production (guilty). But in the spirit of democracy and free speech, it’s good to see that amid all the fanaticism, there’s at least one voice of opposition.
3-D printing brings about unexpected conundrums as new consequences of its use continue to come to light. The regulation of home-manufactured weapons is one; the copy-and-paste infringements on intellectual property rights are another. In his second installment of Dezeen’s brand new opinion column, architect Sam Jacob of the collaborative Fashion Architecture Taste office (FAT — and proud), lays out further grievances on what I detect is perceived mass over-enthusiasm.
He disapproves of the impending “removal of the production process between the designer and their artifact, a shortening of the distance between their imagination and its physical product,” which he sees as a shortcut that ultimately cheapens the design process. I would argue that the removal of the physical aspect of the design process — drawing, handcrafting, etc. — has been a longstanding qualm that the old guard (which I stress that FAT, founded in 1990, is not) has had with the new. Michael Graves, in his September New York Times op-ed “Architecture and the Lost Art of Drawing” lamented that because of software like AutoCAD and Revit, “[b]uildings are no longer just designed visually and spatially; they are ‘computed’ via interconnected databases.” And the result: a loss of the ”personal, emotional connection with the work.” Oh, kids these days.
Jacob predicts that the result of this new ease will be a shift in “the value of the object toward the designer rather than the labour [sic – British] of production,” although I think that we resigned ourselves to that long ago, across the creative industries. Brand name recognition drives our interests, and the person lending his or her name is often removed from the production process completely — that’s what assistants are for. The glory of designing the forthcoming Marina Abramovic Institute, for example, goes to Rem Koolhaas, although the man at the helm is actually the head of OMA’s New York Office Shohei Shigematsu, not to mention the likely underpaid and overworked staff below him. Press releases will no longer hide if one of Peter Zumthor’s assistants rather than the architect himself carved his design prototypes before they went into production. And when was the last time Karl Lagerfeld picked up a sewing machine, or Damien Hirst anything?
As for popular claims that 3-D printing will democratize design by putting it in the hands of its users (I’ve said this before, too) and provide filesharing venues that can be accessed over the world, he says, “It’ll be an iTuned, DRMified ecology that will bind us even more closely to fewer and fewer corporations.” Is that not unlike today, when our most treasured products all come from Apple? “If we’re lucky enough to escape that fate, it will only be into the arms of a Pirate Bay of objects where we’ll find the 3D equivalents of screener films, dodgy 3D scans and partially ripped bootlegs.” That’s the age we live in. Musicians now build their fame from the basements of their own homes by later sharing them on the Internet, and I suspect that designers of the future may do the same.
It seems these qualms are based more on our evolving cultural mindset, which promotes laziness and copying, but also encourages sharing and a stronger-than-ever desire to contribute something unique to the world. We also suffer from sheep-like mass hysteria, but that’s certainly nothing new. 3-D printing just happens to align perfectly with this condition. In conclusion, Jacob says that “3-D printing might change how we make the world, but it won’t change the world itself.” Of course not. In the same way that a car will not drive itself, 3-D printing is a vehicle whose potential is only as great as that of its driver.
— Janelle Zara