3D printer used to reproduce Mauritshuis

16 January 2017 by Communication BK

Can a 3D printer restore a damaged monumental building? Experts from the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment think that it can. They have been given an NWO grant to experiment with ‘cloning’ buildings. The Mauritshuis in The Hague is the first in line for the experiment.

In the coming time specialists will be scanning the Golden Room (1718) of the Mauritshuis and reproducing part of it using a 3D printer. This will be used to produce a model 30 cm wide and three to four metres long, explains project leader Ulrich Knaack. “We are doing this to show what is technically possible. The next step will be a discussion on the question of what we want to reproduce.”


We can already do a great deal using a 3D printer, emphasises the TU Delft professor in Architectural Engineering + Technology (AE+T). In principle it is already possible to create optically identical copies of historic buildings and works of art, whether famous or not. Of course the copies are not truly identical. The model of the Mauritshuis room will not be made of timber and gold like the original, but of coloured plaster. That approach is cheap, simple and quick. For practical reasons the printing is done in a dozen or so blocks, as we don’t have a printer the size of the Golden Room at our disposal, but by gluing these blocks together very accurately we can create something that looks like a single entity. Good colouring and gluing technique is just one of the project’s many challenges.

Another major challenge is answering the question of how far you can go when cloning buildings. Using 3D-printing technology to reproduce a building or work of art that has recently been destroyed by fire seems an obvious application. And repairing buildings or parts of buildings in earthquake zones is also an option. But will the printer soon also be spitting out replicas of historic Dutch buildings in China? Knaack: “On the one hand, this is an attractive idea: people will no longer need to fly across the world to see them. But it’s a philosophical-ethical question whether this is something we should really want.”

This is partly why the chairs in History of Architecture and Materials in Art and Archaeology of the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment are also participating in the KIEM project. Professor Carola Hein (History of Architecture), who is dedicating a 4TU project to the 3D reproduction of a church in Groningen, is holding a workshop on the cultural-historic implications.

Also involved in the project are TU Delft materials expert Joris Dik (3mE), the Mauritshuis, the Central Government Real Estate Agency and three specialised companies. Océ Nederland, Kiwi Electronics and Beyer3D are contributing to the technical side of things. The 3D printer will be used to reproduce construction elements such as window frames, ornamental ceilings and paintwork in the Golden Room.

The project will be completed in 2017. 

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