BVN and UTS rethink air conditioning with 3D-printed ‘breathing’ system

Australian architecture firm BVN and Sydney University of Technology have created a low-carbon, 3D-printed system that “breathes” like frog skin.

Called Systems Reef 2, the invention is made from recycled plastic 3D printed into a computationally optimized design, which BVN says contains 90 percent less carbon than a standard air conditioning system.

The system also uses less operating energy because air flows more easily around organically shaped, branched pipes and there are no corners to pinch.

Systems Reef 2 is a redesigned air conditioning system with an optimized design.

The invention was designed to address many of the architectural studio’s shortcomings, defined by air conditioning, a technology that BVN co-CEO Ninotschka Titchkosky describes hasn’t changed much since its invention in the early 1900s and has been “conversely designed largely for production processes.” for human comfort”.

Air conditioning systems are typically made of steel sheets, which the BVN and UTS team’s analysis has shown contains a high percentage of carbon and uses much more material than necessary. Systems also waste energy as they are structurally inefficient and difficult to replace after installation.

“The systems we have now, they’re not really flexible, they’re not particularly great for human comfort, they’re really expensive to replace, and they really limit the way we occupy buildings in the 21st century.” much more adaptable and agile,” Titchkosky told Dezeen.

Photograph of a 3D printer nozzle extruding layers of clear plastic to form a tube
The system is made of recycled plastic that is 3D printed on tubes.

A key difference with Systems Reef 2 is that it is “designed for air”, eliminating right angles, one of the major sources of inefficiency in existing systems.

The orthogonal designs of these systems are suitable for sheet metal construction, but cause the air to be trapped in the corners and require more energy to expel it.

“The most surprising thing we noticed is that current air conditioning systems are basically non-aerodynamic and often don’t even go through a computational fluid dynamics modeling process,” Titchkosky said.

Photo of two people holding a clear plastic pipe as if they were going to mount it to the ceiling
The pipe is to replace the steel air conditioner duct.

Systems Reef 2 instead has an irregular, branching form without sharp corners and a conical shape where no extra energy is needed to push cold air out from the furthest points of the pipe.

With friction removed from the system, it is smaller and thinner, using less material overall.

The team took inspiration from skin-breathing frogs to increase the comfort level of people sitting under the assembly. Instead of using channels, they covered System Reef 2 with tiny pores that effectively misted cold air into the space below.

Close-up shot of the translucent plastic pipe that makes up the Systems Reef 2 air conditioning system
The pipe is said to have a beautiful, crystalline appearance.

For a low-carbon material solution suitable for 3D printing, they chose recycled plastic. Not only is plastic waste plentiful, it can be easily recycled over and over, making Systems Reef 2 a circular design.

BVN used waste plastic obtained from hospitals, which was pelleted and fed into the 3D printing robot.

The material gives Systems Reef 2 a translucent, crystalline appearance that BVN calls “very beautiful.” There is also the possibility of color printing or lighting to personalize an office environment.

Close-up shot showing the texture of thin plastic filament coils of the Systems Reef 2 tube
The 3D printing process gives BVN and UTS the ability to precisely control the shape of the channel.

The team’s ultimate goal for Systems Reef 2 was adaptability, which they achieved with a click-and-connect system with standardized fastenings and gaskets to facilitate easy changes.

BVN estimates it reduces on-site labor by more than 50 percent because it’s so simple and lightweight – a significant draw given the worldwide labor shortages – and it’s more friendly to installers’ health.

The team uses generative design to tailor Systems Reef 2 to specific areas; an algorithm that generates hundreds of iterations based on a given floor plan, and the final design selected and fine-tuned through manual review.

BVN installed a prototype Systems Reef 2 at its Sydney studio to replace the existing tertiary duct and diffusers. It is now exploring more promotional projects as it prepares to release the design as a commercial product.

Photograph of BVN's Sydney studio with Systems Reef 2 air conditioning system installed
BVN built a prototype of Systems Reef 2 at its Sydney studio

He sees the product as having great potential, especially for renovating aging buildings, and says it could theoretically be installed in any open-plan office.

BVN and UTS were awarded Best Green Building Material/Product at the Australian Sustainability Awards 2022 for design.

This is the second Systems Reef project BVN has undertaken, and each is devoted to some aspects of building services.

Photo of 3D printing robot extruding material in coils
The team now aims to bring their invention to market

“The reason it’s called the System Reef is because we started to think of all the layers that exist at the ceiling as a kind of reef – it’s this kind of multi-layered environment where everything plays a role,” Titchkosky said.

“We wanted to move from the idea of ​​a service infrastructure to a more holistically intertwined and much smarter service system.”

BVN is an Australian architecture practice with offices in Sydney, Brisbane, London and New York. Among its current projects is the Sydney headquarters of technology company Atlassian, which will be one of the world’s tallest hybrid wood towers, 40 stories high.

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