Students Invent A New Method Of 3-D Printing, Using UV Light

Robot arms wield an off-the-shelf projector and a vat of light-sensitive resin in a new form of digital fabrication.

This summer, the Southern California Institute of Architecture handed out its first Gehry Prize, a thesis award named in honor of the legendary 83-year-old architect (and his recent $100k donation) to husband and wife duo Liz and Kyle von Hasseln.


Their project, Phantom Geometry, is not a single design but an entirely new production methodology that uses light from an off-the-shelf projector to cure a special resin into complex, adaptable models. It was developed in SCI-Arc’s Robot House, where students can experiment with six state-of-the-art Staübli robotic arms under the guidance of Peter Testa and Devyn Weiser.

Think of their system as you would a 3-D printer. One robotic arm supports a souped-up digital projector at a stable height. A second arm holds a vat of honey-like resin similar to what the dentist uses to make molds of your teeth. The second arm maneuvers the vat into the projector’s beam of light, and the designer tells the computer where and when to expose the vat to the projector’s UV rays, instantly hardening a specific portion of the resin. The rest of the liquid resin drops away as the arm moves it lower–making it look as though the clear model is being “pulled” out of the vat of liquid.

The thing that fascinated the von Hasselns about the system was that it allowed them to interrupt the process and change the model as it was being printed. “This system of fabrication relies upon native real-time feed-back and feed-forward mechanisms, and is therefore interruptible and corruptible at any time,” they explain.

Typically in digital fabrication, you submit a fully resolved model which emerges, perfectly replicated, a few hours later. Using the advanced robotic arms, the von Hasselns could manipulate the model as it was being printed. “The streaming data input may be transformed or modified at any time, and such interventions impact emerging downstream geometry,” they add. The result is an architecture of performance, full of drips, collapses, and yawning tears–sculpting, by proxy.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.