3-D printing is helping restore a decaying Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece in Child of the Sun, an architectural district at Florida Southern College, to its former glory. The legendary architect designed a group of 12 buildings for the Lakeland, Florida, school built between 1941 and 1958. It’s now the largest collection of his work on a single site in the world.
The crown jewel of this cluster of buildings, the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, was built using the architect’s distinctive “textile block” system, constructed with intricately designed, hollow concrete blocks reinforced with steel and decorated with colored glass. It was the first Wright building to be dedicated on the site, in 1941, and after seven decades, the textile blocks are beginning to deteriorate and crumble.
Previously, molds to create replacements for the blocks have been made by hand, an expensive and laborious process. Now, 3-D printing is making the process a bit easier. Grants from Florida Division of Historical Resources and the National Park Service’s Save America’s Treasures program funded a project to 3-D print the molds, significantly lowering the cost of replacing the original textile blocks, according to a press release from the school. Most of the blocks along the western wall of the chapel–also the most complex–need to be replaced as part of the restoration.
Though 3-D printing has generated plenty of excitement as a method for mass-produced housing and complex architecture, this points to yet another application: a cost-efficient way toward faithful historical restoration.