Making New Things Old 3D Printing Replaces Craftsmanship

 It's a sad fact that the artisans and craftspeople who created some of the most  beautiful, distinctive interior and exterior architectural elements for New  York's residential buildings are an endangered species. The proliferation of  sleek, glass-and-steel architecture, combined with the rising cost of materials  and labor have made the ornate, heavily-ornamented facades and interiors of  prewar buildings truly things of the past; now, the stonemasons, sculptors, and  other craftspeople are aging or gone, and fewer and fewer are taking up their  trades as demand for them has dwindled.  

 “Stonemasons that used to carve stone—that type of person is very hard to find nowadays,” says Joakim Aspegren, a principal with New York City-based Architecture  Restoration Conservation. “There’s not as great a need as there used to be fifty or a hundred years ago.”  

 The Age of 3D

 While the near-extinction of architectural artisans themselves is cause for  concern, there is a silver lining here. The availability and affordability of  old-fashioned architectural elements is changing, thanks to new technology and  so-called '3D printing' that enables designers and architects to use digital  imaging software and cutting-edge fabrication techniques to create not only  exact replicas of ornate cornices, moldings, and other building elements, but  to create them from scratch, custom-built for brand new construction projects.  Indeed, in the future, the technology may be used diversify and enrich  residential architecture in ways that up to now have been cost-prohibitive.  

 The architecture of New York is as diverse and it is breathtaking and with its  famous soaring skyscrapers boasts arguably the most recognized skyline on the  planet. And yet for all the vastness and size and scope of this great city, it  is the little things that make it beautiful. The artists who restore building  elements, whether using 3D printing or more traditional methods, provide the  elaboration that collectively makes cityscapes as interesting as they are  today.  

 Jill Kenik, for example, the president of Rhode Island-based Acropolis Studios  and a pioneer in computer-based fabrication technology, often works in  miniature. “My role in recreation of historic building components is primarily in  replication and reproduction of the smaller fine details, such as door knobs,  discreet signage, door or drawer pulls, window latches—things along those lines,” she explains. “Most often I work in metal and am tasked with reproducing metal components. I  sometimes refer to what I do as ‘jewelry for the buildings.’ It’s the attention to those little details that help to make the historical  buildings so wonderful.”  

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