How 3D Printing can assist in restoration projects

Historical architecture, traditionally speaking, can pose quite an obstacle to architects, especially when the space is to be re-envisioned and restored. Communities may have specific guidelines in place for the materials and the aesthetics for the building. It is important that you check with local building and zoning prior to any restoration on architectural buildings. That being stated, you may find that 3D Printing can help with your architectural restoration project.


Submission sheet set packages are a mandatory for any architect presenting a restoration project. Where 2D sheets fail is in the overall conceptualisation of the project. While it is true that the more details you put into the sheets the less likely the viewer will have questions. Still, there is only a certain level of detail and design which can be conveyed on a flat sheet of paper. 3D printing your building gives the viewer a multi-dimensional perspective of the space and helps to eliminate confusion about the restoration project.

Cathedrals and other buildings can use mockups for restoration purposes. It will be interesting to see if any 3D Printing is used in visualising any restoration attempts to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Uncommon Objects

Perhaps the greatest advantage of using 3D Printing for architectural restoration is the ability to create replicas of hard to find or non-existing components. A handle from the 1500’s would be quite expensive and rare. However, if you have the basic information and can find a CAD 3D Modeler to create a .stl, .dwg, or .obj file (as these are the most common files for 3D Printing) you can print and manipulate that print to look and function like the original. What is greater still is that the object that you create using a Desktop 3D Printer may be more structurally sound than something which has been corroded by time and the elements.


Apart from the ability to re-create, is the ability to upgrade the component’s compatibility. Let’s face it, modern architectural components, specifically windows and doors, have greatly improved over the years. The downside to advancements in technology is that some of the older components, such as latches, handles, knobs, and locks are non-compatible with newer frames, windows stills, latches, etc. In order to bridge this gap, 3D CAD Models can be modified for compatibility. Or, components which are already known to be compatible with modern architecture, can be manipulated aesthetically to resemble the historical component.

Component replacement, especially on large scale projects such as this 3D Printed window’s arch, must remain consistent with the architectural design and, more importantly, fit.

Just a little fix

What happens when you have an architectural restoration which only needs minor tweaking? Perhaps it is some trim which has termite damage to the corners. Maybe a railing has a baluster or unique handrail that only has one section damaged, or there could be a Spanish tile mosaic which has only one metal tile that is missing. You could spend the time tracking down the exact match for the space, shipping the part, and then paying for the installation of the fixture. On the other hand, if there is just a small fix that is needed, you could use a Hand-Held 3D Scanner to capture the “good” areas of the design and then use that design to create a 3D Print of the part needed. This is a quicker and cheaper means of restoration. Additionally, when using the 3D Scanner and then 3D Printing that scan, you ensure a continuity between other pieces of the design with minimal post-processing. There is no dynamic contrast between a manufactured replica for the restoration project and what you already have because the scanner will pick up the shape of the object to be printed with just enough blemishes to make it look antiquated.

Lighter than marble or other materials, 3D printed trim and accent pieces can be replicated to the exact look and feel of the originals.

Note: 3D Scanners vary in the level of detail and customisation options. You may be able to adjust the level of polygons in the 3D Printing and thereby control the amount smoothness and/or roughness that the model has. In most instances you will need to adjust portions of the model to achieve premium visual output.

Architecture and 3D Printing

3D conceptualisation is the future of architecture. It is only natural that the various sectors of architecture will take measures to include 3D aspects into their designs. While some traditionalist may argue that the 3D Printing takes away from the table, I would argue that the table and drawings become more demanding as the architect is more accountable with the 3D Printing (as there is less room for interpretation). Regardless, you can see that 3D Printing plays a vital role in restoration projects, both structurally and aesthetically. As trends continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see where technology and 3D Printing will take architectural restorations.

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