News Treehugger Voices 3D-Printed Stainless Steel Bridge Opens in Amsterdam Six years in the making, Joris Laarman's dream is finally complete. By Lloyd Alter Lloyd Alter Facebook Twitter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. Learn about our editorial process Updated July 24, 2021 04:32PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checked by Haley Mast LinkedIn Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a freelance writer, fact-checker, and small organic farmer in the Columbia River Gorge. She enjoys gardening, reporting on environmental topics, and spending her time outside snowboarding or foraging. Topics of expertise and interest include agriculture, conservation, ecology, and climate science. Learn about our fact checking process Queen Maxima crosses the bridge. MX3D Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices News Archive Queen Maxima of the Netherlands recently pressed a button to start a robotic arm equipped with scissors to cut the ribbon, opening a new bridge in the Red Light district of Amsterdam. The bridge, six years in the making, is designed by Joris Laarman, engineered by Arup, and built by MX3D. It was 3D printed out of almost 10,000 pounds of stainless steel in a process that took almost six months using four robots spitting out 685 miles of melted wire. Architecture professor Philip Oldfield calculates the bridge is responsible for 30.5 tons (27.7 metric tons) of upfront carbon. He is probably underestimating it, given that four robots with arc-welders for heads ran for six months, remelting and then laying down the beads of stainless steel. Others complain: "We really don’t get it as a species, do we? This should have been a wooden bridge with hardly any carbon footprint and also storing carbon." Architect Elrond Burrell says, as Treehugger has many times, that "3d printing still a solution looking for a problem to solve." This raises the question that is often asked of us: Why is this on Treehugger? Lloyd Alter To answer that, we have to go back to October 2017, when we first learned about Joris Laarman and the bridge at the Cooper Hewitt in New York City and wrote, "Joris Laarman Lab Shows the Future of Digital Design." Laarman is an artist and wrote: "When people see a robot they see a solution to a problem or even the problem itself. I see an instrument to create smart beauty." "We are children of a time of transition: one foot in the industrial era and the other in the digital era... Will robots be taking over all of our work within the next ten years? Or will developments in digital fabrication ensure that craftsmanship and the love of the way things are made will once again be central to society? In any case, we’re on the eve of great changes." As shown at the start of the video, the bridge was supposed to have been built on-site with two robots working from each end. It was built in a factory by MX3D, a company co-founded by Laarman, completed in 2018, and has been sitting around waiting until the canal walls were reinforced so that they could support it. MX3D isn't just in the bridge business; they have a vision of MX3D robots building "lightweight constructions like bridges or complete buildings, optimized custom ships or even Mars colonies in full autonomy." It sounds fantastical, but then Laarman started with chairs and has made it to bridges. MX3D The bridge is many things. Laarman is an artist at heart, concerned about the future of arts and crafts in a digital world, writing in 2017: "We believe a hybrid form of digital fabrication and local crafts is the future of a more democratic design world, and with the help of new technologies we hope that in a few years everyone will be able to afford good design that is locally fabricated." I wrote at the time, using that famous phrase: "So why is this on TreeHugger? About a decade ago we started looking at the implications of what we called downloadable design, envisioning a time when "we will download design on demand. It is like the music for our iPod -- dematerialized bits and bytes put together again where we need it, without the waste of a physical intermediary." We watched the development of the home 3D printers, and shared in the hype. In the end, it was mostly hype; design is hard. But the Joris Laarman Lab shows that in the hands of true artists, these technologies are changing design, changing the way things are made, and creating wonderful opportunities." Robot on the Moon. MX3D Philp Oldfield and the other skeptics are probably right; we don't need 3D-printed stainless steel bridges. We probably don't need 3D-printed domes on the moon. But we do need Laarman.