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Stunning 3D-Printed Pavilion Weathers Time, Nature's Wrath and Overseas Travel: Created by SHoP Architects for the Design Miami fair, a soaring pavilion made with custom ABS and bamboo-reinforced PLA has found a new home in Kenya.

In this age of heightened environmental sustainability, plastics sometimes get rough treatment by the public and in the media. So it is heartening to hear a story of reuse and renewal such as this one, which begins in New York, Chattanooga and Miami and has made a stop, for now, in Nairobi, Kenya, of all places.

After the Design Miami global forum awarded its annual Design Visionary Award in 2016 to SHoP Architects (, the New York-based architectural firm earned the opportunity to create an installation to serve as the gateway to that year's Design Miami fair. The hosts wanted a creative, eye-catching yet functional pavilion that would welcome attendees, provide seating and counter space, and also hold, for example, 1,000 champagne flutes, according to Rebecca Caillouet, project manager and senior associate at SHoP.

SHoP--known for its use of next-generation fabrication and delivery techniques and imaginative programmatic concepts--proved to be a good choice. SHoP co-founder Gregg Pasquarelli said at the time: "We use technology as a way to take traditional materials and experimental materials and use them in a new way that people are inspired."

SHoP leveraged its contacts at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory ( of the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE)--and also ended up partnering for the first time with Chattanooga-based 3D printing specialists Branch Technology ( Down the road in Clinton, Tenn., polymer compounder Techmer PM had worked with both ORNL and Branch for some time, and was brought in to design the materials needed to produce both of the project's large, free-form, 3D-printed "nesting" canopies, as well as its solid seating and countertops.

Using curvilinear geometry, SHoP applied Branch's novel Cellular Fabrication (C-Fab[TM]) 3D printing technology to produce the curved canopies using a Kuka robot, nicknamed Rudy, that ran on a 38-foot track. For those parts, they used a carbon fiber-reinforced ABS resin that Techmer had custom made for Branch to use in its additive manufacturing process.

Oak Ridge, meanwhile, had the idea to use naturally grown bamboo as a reinforcing fiber in a bio-based resin for the project's solid seating and raised bar. Bamboo is a woody grass that can grow at the astonishing rate of up the three feet per 24 hours. It was up to Techmer to come up with a compound that would work--and they had just a matter of weeks to do so, recalls Alan Franc, the firm's product development manager.

"This was a new feedstock and supply chain, and a new, developmental raw material, to be made in a new production process," he said--and SHoP needed 10,000 pounds of the compound ready within a few weeks. ORNL sourced the bamboo and provided it to Techmer, which developed a bio-based polylactic acid (PLA) base resin to use with it.

"Within a four-week time frame, we worked through challenges related to the PLA and bamboo fibers and successfully formulated materials that met the installation's structural and extended outdoor durability needs."

They weren't sure at first if the material needed to meet flame-retardant specifications, so Techmer worked concurrently for a while on developing both FR- and non-FR versions, until it was determined that these parts did not need to meet those specs. Both the base resin and the reinforcing material are made from totally renewable sources, and compound is also biodegradable and designed for high-speed printing.

ORNL, meanwhile, used a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine from Cincinnati Inc. to 3D print the PLA components in DOE's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility on the Oak Ridge site.

SHoP said that Oak Ridge's use of this technology to make these solid PLA parts "celebrated a biodegradable bamboo medium."

These recyclable PLA products, which are used on pellet-fed additive manufacturing equipment, are said to be well-suited for single- and limited-use products, as well as packaging and promotional items.

"Using bamboo fiber as a composite material offers several advantages over traditional, petroleum-based additive manufacturing materials," according to Soydan Ozcan, senior R&D scientist at ORNL. "Biomaterials require less energy to produce, have a lower carbon footprint, and are biodegradable at the end of their useful life."

The PLA parts had one-third of the embodied energy and an order of magnitude lower carbon footprint compared to the carbon-fiber-reinforced resin systems normally used in large-scale additive manufacturing. Branch's patented C-Fab technology builds in redundant strength and makes the resulting parts very strong and durable.

Additionally, global engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti analyzed the two autonomous canopies--dubbed Flotsam & Jetsam--to modify the angles of the struts to improve the overall performance and stress resistance. The resulting structures were considered at the time to be among the largest 3D-printed objects ever produced, occupying some 1,600 cubic feet of volume. Standing about 1 4 feet high when fully assembled, the structure's largest single parts measured roughly 25 feet long by 6 feet wide by 8 feet high. (See project video: https://vimeo.eom/214207883.)

The maximum part size, recalled Caillouet in a recent phone interview, was limited by the dimensions of the door on Branch's previous facility. (Branch last summer moved into a much larger facility midway between Chattanooga's downtown innovation district where the venture began and Chattanooga State Community College where it is currently building an entirely 3D-printed house, called Curve Appeal.)

The two-acre landscape of experimentation for Design Miami was inspired, SHoP says, "in equal parts by the city's celebrated spirit of play and its less well-known role as an emerging technology hub."

Once the 2016 fair ended, SHoP disassembled Flotsam & Jetsam, moved it across town and reinstalled it in the Miami Design District's iconic Jungle Plaza to house an outdoor cultural event space for long-term public enjoyment.

The canopy structures--which use braided zip ties to connect the various components--enjoyed a planned, two-year run in Jungle Plaza, where it served as the centerpiece of the district's weekly farmer's market and other programmed events that focus on arts and design. During this span, Caillouet said, it successfully endured three major storms, including a very destructive Hurricane Irma, which battered the Florida Keys and generally swamped south Florida.

Meantime, SHoP was continuing a collaboration with the Yale Center for Ecosystems in Architecture ( joint academic initiative between the Yale Schools of Architecture and Forestry & Environmental Studies. SHoP founding partner Chris Sharpies is a visiting professor at Yale.

It was through this connection that SHoP was invited to send the slightly smaller of its two 3D printed structures to Nairobi to serve as an installation during the first session of the U.N.-Habitat Assembly (, to be there held from May 27-31, at the headquarters of U.N.-Habitat in Nairobi. (The U.N. office in Nairobi is one of four major United Nations office sites where numerous different UN agencies have a joint presence. Established in 1 996, it is the U.N.'s headquarters in Africa.)

Manufacturing and assembling Flotsam & Jetsam back in 2016 "felt like a delicate dance at the time," Caillouet said, noting that 1 2 trucks were needed to transport all the parts to southern Florida where they were assembled on site. Sending one of the structures via air freight to Africa was another challenge altogether.

SHoP and the team from Yale CEA oversaw the process that involved 13 specially built crates, the largest of which measured 20 by 8 by 8 feet. Although clearing customs in Africa took a while, the shipment itself went well, and Caillouet in mid-March oversaw the reassembly of the transported unit in Nairobi. Set on a grassy green site, profiled against Kenya's rich blue sky, the painted, rust-colored structure makes a striking visual statement at the UN site, she says.

The installation's stay in Nairobi will be limited, and SHoP is already planning ahead. "We have other ideas for its next uses, Caillouet said. "The other unit is still in Miami, and [the two structures] may be reunited" at a location to be named later.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of Flotsam and Jetsam tour the world.

By Robert Grace


Robert Grace is a writer, editor and marketing communications professional who has been active in B2B journalism since 1980. He was founding editor of and worked for 25 years at Plastics News, serving as editorial director, associate publisher and conference director. He was managing editor of Plastics Engineering from July 2016 through October 2017, and is now both editor of SPE's Journal of Blow Molding and directing content strategy for SPE. He runs his own firm, RC Grace LLC, in Daytona Beach, FL., and can be contacted at
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Title Annotation:DESIGN NOTES; polylactic acid; acrylonitrile butadiene styrene
Author:Grace, Robert
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2019
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