by Sophia Jactel

The Museum of Design Atlanta (aka MODA) is the only museum in the Southeast devoted specifically to all things design. And it’s just our luck that it happens to be right here in our own backyard. Last year, the museum debuted one of their most riveting exhibits yet, called Designers, Makers, Users: 3D Printing the Future which will be on display until February 14. The Lookbook team recently went to the museum for an exclusive tour, and we were amazed.  It’s safe to say we’ll be signing up for a 3D printing class offered at MODA to create our own object and print it using state-of-the-art 3D equipment.

Neil Miller, our guide for the visit and a 3D printing expert, was quick to lay out the basics. “Here at MODA, we generally define design as creativity and functionality coming together to make something better,” he says. In fact, 3D printing is just a type of production called additive manufacturing. “For most of history, things have been made using subtractive manufacturing which involves removing material to make a product. Additive works in the opposite way: you’re starting with the material in some malleable form and then you’re adding it in layers to create whatever it is that you want,” Miller explains. Watching these machines in motion is mesmerizing, almost hypnotic. Ultra-thin layers of plastic are placed one on top of the other over and over in a repetitive motion to build the product from the ground up. But the exhibit stretches way past solely 3D printing methodology and introduces the viewer to the range of products it can create.

The 3D Kinematics Dress is where the majority of visitors flock when entering the larger gallery space. It’s made out of bright orange chain-link printed plastic material that drapes over the mannequin like any other dress would. Composed of thousands of interlocking components, the garment is one continuous large piece of 3D printed material, meaning it doesn’t need to be assembled. It comes out of the printer already put together. The entire show is filled with impressive displays such as this one.

A two-minute stop-motion movie made of entirely 3D printed set and characters plays on repeat on a TV in the hallway gallery. It was created using a frame by frame technique that required hundreds of different 3D printed figures with the slightest alterations to create fluid movement in the picture and took nearly two years to make. There’s even an example of a 3D printed cancer-fighting virus that could potentially revolutionize the treatment of the disease.

One big use for 3D printing that is demonstrated multiple times throughout the exhibit is prosthetic limbs. An Iron Man arm is displayed at the entrance of the show, 3 different models of printed lower-leg prosthetics are shown, but perhaps the most interesting is a children’s adjustable arm prosthetic, whose size can be altered as the child grows and gets taller. So the technology stretches with people but also stretches across the earth and into the atmosphere. A section of the exhibit focuses on an entire prototype of a 3D printed lunar habitation.

And this is all just to name a few. Yet while wandering among this garden of innovation, one potent question comes to mind: How will this technology shape our future?

Laura Flusche, the executive director of MODA and curator of the show, explains its premise: “The exhibition that we pulled together looks at how 3D printing is changing our world in fields as broad as healthcare, space exploration, architecture, fashion.” 

Ultimately, the exposition demonstrates how the development of customized solutions to solve complex issues is rapidly growing, and how these new tools of design and manufacturing are becoming more and more accessible. With 3D printers now on the open market, their availability is molding a whole new era of technology.

“One of the things that 3D printing does really well is this notion of democratizing design,” our guide Miller points out. “It’s giving design as a tool to everybody so that you can make whatever it is that you want.” The door is wide open, but what’s beyond is still a bit blurry.  “It’s definitely changing what it means to be a designer,” he continues, “You can start to ask where the line is between stealing and owning ideas. It’s definitely raising concerns.” When soaking this all in, it becomes apparent that with all this exciting progress comes complex ethical issues. How far is too far, exactly? When and why does this scientific process coincide with religion, moral codes, social norms? What’s the effect? From any perspective, it’s a fascinating inquiry. Go see the show before it closes to expand your technical - and ethical - thinking.

The Kinematic dress; prosthetic covers; and wheelchair hack, all on view at the MODA. 

The Kinematic dress; prosthetic covers; and wheelchair hack, all on view at the MODA. 

Museum of Design Atlanta
1315 Peachtree Street