Interview: Emerging Objects has big plans for big, bold prints

emerging objects seat slug

The Seat Slug is a bio-morphic interpretation of a bench.

We’ve all been seeing the beautiful pictures of Emerging Objects’ 3D printed sculptures using salt, wood, and cement. I wanted to know where this is going, so I called one of the founders, Ronald Rael, to have a chat.

3DP: Firstly, who is behind Emerging Objects and how long have you been around?

Ronald: We’ve been around for a year, and Emerging Objects is comprised of myself and Virginia San Fratello, business partners and former Berkeley students who are employees or interns.

3DP: So do you mostly provide consulting and research opportunities? What do you offer?

Ronald: We are a startup company that formed out of research that took place at the University of California, Berkeley where I’m an associate professor of architecture. The goal and intention is to print durable parts, and to print large objects. We provide design services, based around our assembly systems and proprietary materials. In the future, we hope to do that in a number of ways, both through an online web interface and in-house architectural services. But it’s not constrained to architectural services only, as there are many kinds of large objects that one might want to print, but because we can produce large objects from assemblies, the background in architecture is a key ingredient.

3DP: Okay. Well I’m curious about the materials that you’re developing. Are you using multiple printers for the various materials or is it more like changing heads?

Ronald: We’re using powder-based 3D printers, specifically Z Corp printers. So it’s a layer of powder material, binder, a layer of powder, etc.

3DP: Oh, very nice. Those are high-quality printers. So how large have you gotten with your prints?

Ronald: Our largest yet is the Seat Slug, and other large objects out of salt. Right now we’re working on a room-sized object made out of salt harvested directly from the San Francisco Bay. Our part size is limited by the printers, so we’ve developed a series of assembly methods to print multiple parts that make a larger object. And because the materials are very strong and inexpensive, we’re able to do that.

emerging objects drum

Drum is a study in large-scale light-weight 3D printing with their Cement material.

3DP: So what are the short-term and long-term plans?

Ronald: We want to be a company that prints very large objects, and two of our founders are architects, so we are looking to build building components. We’re going to take our research out of university and bring it into our company and continue to develop and refine our materials and methods, and develop new technologies.

3DP: It sounds like long term you want to be printing houses.

Ronald: Yes. Not long term — short term. We’re looking to move pretty quickly on this.

3DP: So you’re putting together a system where you can combine elements of your cement materials with perhaps your paper for insulation into a livable home.

Ronald: Exactly. And we don’t think we can replace all of the components of a building. But because we have a material palette that is diverse and has different kinds of properties, we can respond to a lot of different components found in a home, from weather enclosures to insulation to sound proofing to the aesthetic qualities of finishes. So we’re really a company that has a system in place — we have the materials, the assembly methods, the architectural know-how, and so from there we think we can make buildings, and additions to existing buildings. This also has relevance in historic preservation and inventing new customized walls systems.

emerging object concrete platter

The Bevel Bowl is ideal for serving fruit or bread or simply for use as a decorative piece.

3DP: So you’ve developed paper, salt, cement, and wood. Are there others in development?

Ronald: We are working on a flexible material.

3DP: Nice. So what is the Emerging Designers statement on your website about?

Ronald: That’s an opportunity for us to invite designers who are very familiar with 3D printing to print with our materials; we set that up to test our materials against other designs. When we invite others to collaborate with us, we open up some new possibilities that we didn’t realize with our materials. It’s something we do on a very limited and selective basis.

emerging objects lamp

Lamprocyclas raelsanfratellis, a translucent 3D printed lantern

3DP: Any idea on when we might see some of your larger-structure prints?

Ronald: We’re hoping that by mid-July we’ll have a room-sized object made of salt. And hopefully by August we’ll have an example of a 3D printed house design on our website.

3DP: Wonderful.

It was an exciting conversation. We also talked a bit about how using 3D printing for structures allows form to mix aesthetics with performance by adding air pockets to reduce materials and putting more material where you really need strength. I am truly looking forward to the day when we can get out of these boring, square houses and live in Dr. Seuss homes.