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This New 3D-Printed Jet Part is Based on the Shape of Bones

Curious what The Living—the forward-thinking New York-based architecture firm best known for Hy-Fi, the innovative eco-brick structure built at MoMA's PS1 in 2014—has been working on since it was acquired by software maker Autodesk in 2014? Today, the group revealed one of its projects, a next-generation, 3D-printed airplane part for Airbus. According to a release sent by The Living and information recently posted on the Airbus site, the firm has designed a partition for jets, based on cellular structure and bone growth found in living organisms, that was 3D printed with a new high-tech alloy. This pioneering product is 45 percent lighter than current designs, and when applied to all the Airbus planes in circulation, would save 465,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. More importantly, it exemplifies the financial and environmental benefits possible when high-tech material sciences meets biomimicry.

"We're not only creating unique forms through computing to test biologically-based designs, we're doing things with a variety of technologies that couldn't be done five years ago," says David Benjamin, a principal at The Living. "The project incorporated a lot of ideas at the right time to become viable and help solve an urgent problem."

Bionic Partition from David Benjamin on Vimeo.

Finding strong but lightweight materials and structures is a key design challenge for aeronautics firms trying to shrink the carbon footprint of jet travel. This project was created over the last two years using a generative design workflow, which tested thousands of designs utilizing the processing power of cloud computing, to more quickly arrive on a final shape. An algorithm developed by The Living devised potential shapes for the partition. By cycling through thousands of designs, then "learning" to create a better, stronger design, its akin to computer-modeled evolution.

"The final design was the result of running 10,000 design options," says Benjamin. "You could only do this with a certain level of computer power that was only available recently."

The final design was then 3D printed in collaboration with APWorks, an Airbus Group subsidiary, using a material called Scalmalloy, a second-generation aluminum-magnesium-scandium alloy that has more give than other materials used for aeronautics (this is the first application of the material, developed for lightweight structural applications).

This piece, called the Bionic Partition, is the first part of a collaboration between The Living and Airbus. An initial test has been completed on the partition, and further tests will continue this year, including a test flight on an A320 and crash tests to assess it's durability, to prove this design test works. Airbus is exploring the possibility of creating other parts based on bionic shapes, such as structural parts copying the structure of water lilies and torsion springs based on fish jaws.

"It's not as dramatic as a test plane," says Benjamin, "but it's unveiling the process, and will let it will evolve. All the teams have been getting excited about it, and it's allowed us to really push it forward."

He also feels this kind of technology and workflow will "absolutely" influence architecture. This same type of design process can help solve complex design problems, such as the design of a mixed-use building meant to maximize public space, or a skyscraper that would minimize energy use. The Living is currently using the framework to design an office space for a tech company, trying to meet goals such as adjacencies, environmental performance and daylighting.

"From my point of view, there's no limit of creative things we can do as designers, and this technology just gives us more tools and options" Benjamin says. "I won't ever be beholden to what the computer creates, but it'll be able to provide me more intelligent options and ideas."

Tubular Tower of Eco Bricks Lands In MoMA PS1's Courtyard [Curbed New York]
· How One NYC Museum Sparks Architects' Most Radical Work [Curbed]