Floating under the ceiling, four “Nature Clouds” composed of 3D printed structures and hydroponic plants brightened up the Stanley Field Hall in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.
This installation is devoted to 125th year anniversary of the museum. The cloud structures are 3D printed by Branch Technology using proprietary process called Cellular Fabrication (C-FAB). They house over thousand plants growing in stone wool substrate.
To sustain vital functions of hydroponic plants, “clouds” contain the systems of water supply, lighting, theatrical fog, and even sound equipment.
A combined weight of all the installation is 12,270 pounds. Thus, the structure itself has to weigh as little as possible to have minimum impact on the historic museum building.
Biopolymer made from renewable resources was chosen as a 3D printing material. The strength‐to‐weight ratio helped make it the clear choice for this material and also for the hanging garden manufacture process.
According to C-FAB technology, open‐cell structures are printed by a Kuka Robotics arm with a Branch patented extrusion head attached. The video is demonstrating the manufacturing process in details:
Specially developed algorithms allow the robotic arm to translate virtually any three‐dimensional design into the open-cell structure – cellular but very strong. Each building component can be attached to the next if necessary. The maximum dimensions of each component are 8 feet wide by 12 feet high by 30 feet long.
Reinforced and non-reinforced polymer is used for 3D printing process. Branch Technology applied plastic as a building material in the Chicago museum. However, the manufacturer took the first prize in the second phase of NASA’s 3D printing habitat challenge in 2017 printing a basalt fiber-based dome structure but AI SpaceFactory won the final phase of the challenge.
The Stanley Field Hall of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History can now be proud of the world’s largest hanging garden containing various species of fern, philodendron and ficus, whose ancestors existed during the time of dinosaurs. By the way, we have not heard of other hanging gardens. I wonder, if there is such a miracle anywhere else.
Basalt fiber is sure to have been chosen as a planting substrate because it is a lightweight, inert and sustainable material that helps to avoid pests from soils with watering carried out through a contained system housed in the ceiling. In other words, nothing drips and pours on the heads of visitors.
Mineral wool substrates are definitely gaining popularity and are increasingly being used for hydroponic cultivation of vegetables, greenery and flowers in protected grounds and also for green walls.