A couple of years ago, digital fabrication was making headlines regularly, promising to drastically change the architecture practice.

The revolution in architecture might not have arrived yet, but research projects, experiments and the dedication of several architects and universities already opened a new realm of possibilities for architectural expression.Therefore, it seems appropriate to give an overview of the impact the technology had so far within the architecture practice. This article covers the different types of processes within the field and the projects that experiment with them, with the scope of reframing the architectural potential of digital fabrication.

Digital fabrication covers any manufacturing process controlled by a computer. Although technologies are constantly expanding, they mainly involve one of three types of methods: additive manufacturing, subtractive manufacturing and robotic manipulation of any kind.Additive manufacturing, which is commonly known as 3D printing, consists of layering material.

The technology emerged in 1983, using stereolithography (SLA), a process involving shooting an ultraviolet laser beam into a mass of photopolymer, which then turns into solid plastic. There are now many other processes out there (some covered in this Archdaily article), and the technologies evolve at a fast pace. The range of materials expanded beyond plastics to include metals, glass, clay, nanocomposites, and even human tissue.

There is also research taking place to develop reliable multi-material 3d printers.In subtractive manufacturing, objects are carved out of a solid block, CNC milling being the most common process. It is the introduction of robotic arms that extended the possibilities for CNC milling, as the higher the number of axes of movement, the more enhanced its capabilities. Laser cutting and hot wire, conventional model-making techniques, also fall within this category of subtractive manufacturing.