Nº 254
4D Printing

The advent of 4D printing in medicine and architecture broadens the scope of three-dimensional objects by factoring in time. Intelligent materials, designed and printed in 3D, can now be invested with the capacity to change shape over time. Visionaries dream of water pipes that repair themselves or furniture that assembles itself. That such fantasies may become a reality in the not-too-distant future is apparent from the following selection of projects.



The 4D fashion series Kinematics grew out of a technical obstacle standing in the way of creating a flat garment on a 3D printer. The design studio Nervous System based in Somerville, Massachusetts, is run by the biologist and architect Jessica Rosenkrantz and the mathematician Jesse Louis-Rosenberg. For their Kinematics series, they designed jewellery and clothing in 18 different variants. The items are printed in 3D and can be adapted as required. They owe their flexibility to an intricate mosaic of hinged triangular parts. The result is a pliant, textile-like, foldable material. The system paves the way for clothes that can adapt automatically to the environment in which they are worn.

Femur Stool


The Femur Stool developed by the London-based design studio Assa Ashuach generates maximum loadbearing capacity with a minimum of materials. Studio proprietor Assa Ashuach produced his first 3D-printed chair, the Osteon Chair, back in 2004 and hence counts as a pioneer in this field. The Femur Stool builds on the preceding model in that it is designed to mould itself to the weight and posture of whoever is sitting on it. The new stool owes its name to the bone-shaped microstructures inside the core. It can bear weights of up to 120kg.

Artificial Tissue


Using a new method of bioprinting, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the Wysss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have succeeded in bringing complex structures to life. These three-dimensional tissue constructs consisting of different cell types and tiny blood vessels mark a decisive step towards the reproduction of human tissue, organs or even whole body parts. Such artificial tissue, moreover, could be used to test the safety and efficacy of new drugs, rendering animal experiments superfluous. “This is the foundational step towards creating 3D living tissue”, explains Jennifer A. Lewis, head of the research project.

Sine Wave


The artist and architect Skylar Tibbits has played a crucial part in the definition and concept of 4D printing. The Self-Assembly Lab in the Faculty of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has initiated a number of projects, all of which have to do with intelligent materials. Sine Wave, the most recent of these, which was developed in collaboration with Stratasys Ltd. and Autodesk Inc., shows robotic behaviour that is not electromechanically controlled. The components, manufactured on a 3D printer, react on contact with water, which makes flat parts bend into the shape of a sine wave. A recliner that takes shape of its own accord, for example, is now one step closer.

4D Printing: Surface to Sine Wave from Skylar Tibbits on Vimeo.

4D Printing: Doubly Curved Surface from Skylar Tibbits on Vimeo.



The name of this toy, OSM, stands for “Object for Spatial Manipulation”. It was developed by Hopson Kinetic, a studio based in Brooklyn, New York, and is basically a rotatable 3D kaleidoscope. The individual parts can be combined as desired, and vary in colour and shape, so that the range of new combinations and patterns is limitless. The toy is completely free of harmful substances and is suitable for children aged three and over.


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