Architects Use 3D Printing to Help Finish Gaudi's Sagrada Familia

One of the longest construction projects ever is on its way to completion thanks to 3D printers

The Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, Spain, has been under construction for more than 130 years, but now thanks to the 21st century technology of 3D printing, the 19th century project may finally be completed by 2026.

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Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi began work on the Gothic and Art Nouveau masterpiece in 1883, but only a quarter of the church was completed at the time of his death in 1926. Up until the turn of the century, the intricate project relied on hand-crafted prototype models from Gaudi's designs before anything was permanently installed, according to BBC.

That changed in 2001 when architects Jodi Coll, Jordi Faulí, and Mark Burry started using 3D printers to create plaster models in 12 hours, BBC reported.

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The printers alternate layers of dust and binding material to create modular pieces that can be swapped around and modified post-printing. The plaster-like material also allows the architects to mix parts between the age-old models and the newly produced ones, according to BBC. The new technology has allowed the team to accelerate the project, which reduced costs and set the completion date for 2026.

In 1936, construction on the church -- a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts 2.8 million people a year-- stopped during the Spanish Civil War and many of Gaudi’s renderings and models were stolen or destroyed. Since then, many architects have been worried about preserving Gaudi’s original vision. But chief architect Jodi Coll believes Gaudi would have embraced 3D technology.

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“If Gaudí was alive today, he would have brought 3D technology to its maximum exponent, since much of his work was already conceived tri-dimensionally,” said Coll, according to 3D Systems.

The architects used 3D technology to piece together a digital version of how the finished Sagrada Familia will look like in 2026.

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“This model couldn’t be produced before, primarily for technical reasons—advances in computer power, precise 3D scanning of the existing building, and 3D prototyping allowed us to work at a scale and a level of detail hitherto impossible to achieve,” architect Jordi Faulí told Architect Magazine.

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