Liminal Mass: 3D Printed Ceiling




Introduction: Liminal Mass: 3D Printed Ceiling

About: Smith|Allen is a design firm based in Oakland California. Our work is interdisciplinary in focus bringing design, innovation, and novel concepts to bear on a wide range of projects. Smith|Allen brings toge...

Liminal Mass

Liminal Mass is a graft within ceiling architecture in a coastal house: a long, narrow piece suspended within the a ceiling annex. Responsive to the environment, the surface’s reflective properties will change throughout the day, alternating between opacity and translucency. Lighting components are integrated to continue surface dynamism into the evening and night. The work forms a common boundary between old and new, interior and exterior, and in doing so, redefines and engages the existing architecture and interior environment.

Lightweight and crafted from 3D printed bioplastic, the work is seamlessly integrated with an aluminum structure, which provides structural reinforcement and a point of attachment for the hanging device. Scaled at 4 1/2 x 8 feet, our grafted “drop ceiling” interacts with light, air, and the structure of the annex, specifically in relation to the exposed beams of the original framework.

About smith|allen

As a collaborative duo, we are interested in exploring the relationship of art, design, environment, and temporality within the context of place. We generate work that is site-responsive, critically examining the natural, technological and constructed systems within the built environment. Merging digital craft and technological methodology with artistic vision and a focus on viewer engagement, we create work that engages experience as much as it does on form, on history as much as technology.

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Step 1: Inspiration + Concept + Experimentation

For this installation, we examined the site: a home in Bolinas, California. We took inspiration from both the exterior site - the ocean view, the topography, the natural inhabitants - as well as interior markers - the high ceiling, ocean view. Liminal Mass brings together these two environments, designed to be site-specific and large-scale, it is a transitional experience for the viewer to the surrounding coastal environment within a living room.

The surface tessellation is a juxtaposition of macro and micro textures sourced from the site and surrounding areas, from the ocean waves and site topography to whale skin, to draw the experience outside from indoors. We see the installation as a compliment to the windows that frame the ocean view: it will propel one’s experience outward.

Step 2: Fabrication Part 1: the Frame

Follow these individual links to make your own version of 3d printed ceiling.

This is a very complicated project so we've broken it down into a few different steps with each step having its own instructable.

The first step is the frame, this is the aluminum structure that will be the skeleton for the piece. The electronics, wiring, lighting, and 3D panels are all attached to this skeleton. The frame is then hung from the ceiling.

One of the major challenges of the project was parametrically controlling the geometry of the frame in conjunction with the 3D printed components. The tolerances of the machines are vastly different and stack up when not accounted for. We prototyped the connection system extensively and ended with a system that allows nearly 1/8" Tolerance in the printed parts over 48"

Water jet frame

Step 3: Fabrication Part 2: the Lighting

The next step is the lighting and wiring, there are many many ways to solve this but we decided to go with the simplest and most straight forward of just using an Arduino mega controlled via RF remote.

LED lighting

The Aurduino mega drives 4x 5M strips of Neopixels. Each 5M strip has it's own power supply. For wiring and code check out the instructable above.

The piece is controlled via the Adafruit RF 4 button key fob, A is fade on, B is Pulse, C is part mode, and D is Fade out.

Step 4: Fabrication Part 3: Printing the Panels

Finally the printing, the major challenge is to get all the parts done in a timely manner, for this you need your printers to be working together and in top form. We used a combination of our own Series 1 3D printers and Type A Machines 3D Printing Service Here are a collection of guides to get your printers in shape for some major fabrication.

How to make your 3D Printers work together

How to print directly from Fusion 360

How to replace a hot end on a Series 1

Adding a heated bed to your Series 1

and if your have a pre-2014 series 1 Adding WiFi

Step 5: Installation and Hanging

The final part o the project is integrating it into it's site. This is done by hanging the piece from the existing structure.

Use beam clamps or D rings to create a hard-point on the structure. Since the piece is so light (about 49lbs) it really doesn't need much. 1/8" aircraft cable is WAY more than enough to hold it up. Measure out the length of cable required, cut it using cable shears and make sure to leave a couple inches extra.

Measure out the overall finished length and kink the cable manually to set the length, this will be your guide for where the cable crimp will go. Slide the crimp on past the bend, leave enough room to make a loop. Slide the cable end back through the crimp then use the crimper to engage the crimp. Do a tug test to make sure it's solid.

For adjustment we added in a set of turnbuckles on each line, you probably don't need those but they are great for fine tuning.

Once the hanger it setup attached it to the structure to hang from. Use carabiners to make the connection easy.

With the hangers ready grab a couple friends and get the piece. It's best to have 2 friends on step stools holding the piece and then one person above on a step ladder to attach the carabiners.

Once the carabiners are attached then plug in the power and that's it!

Step 6: The Finished Piece (and Lessons Learned)

This piece was a major exploration for us. It challenged us to design around not only the limitations and tolerances of our 3D Printers but to integrate those systems with a completely different set of low tolerance fabrication methods. We were very pleased with the result and although there were some problems with tolerance and fitting parts together the piece came out well.

The interactive light adds and entire other dimension to the piece, it becomes more active while at the same time disappears as if it was a light fixture. In future iterations we would use more powerful/dense LED strips to even out the lighting more. We would also mount the power supplies and spine closer to the surface itself to lower it's vertical profile.

The ripple pattern performs well with strong back-lighting such as the site it was designed for but renders a bit flat in other sites. It is a quiet simple piece with subtle geometry that can be lost in a busy environment.

The subtly of the texture does not do as good of a job hiding the joints and panels as we had hoped, a stronger more angular texture would trick the eye into seeing less of the joints.

Liminal Mass has a lightness while at a same time an overhead mass, it challenges the viewer to see as more than a ceiling but as a sculptural element. It guides the viewers perspective out along it and defines a flow of space around it. It invite viewers to question what is possible and how can our built environment be rethought and rebuilt.

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    4 Discussions


    5 years ago on Step 6

    Nice work! I actually like some of the shots without light....where the piece has a sort of milky depth - subtle shadows!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This is excellent and its great to see a really artistic piece made using a 3D printer. My only concern would be cleaning it, the forms are going to get really dusty. Never the less a great piece thank you for sharing.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    beautiful! I love the design - thanks for sharing this incredibly creative Instructable!