Liz and Kyle Von Hasseln wanted to bake a birthday cake for a friend but, unfortunately, their rented apartment didn’t have an oven. Not to be deterred, the Southern California Institute of Architecture SCI-Arc alumni hit upon a solution that would leave most bakers scratching their heads: They decided to 3D print one.Earlier that year, the couple had been awarded the school’s inaugural Gehry Prize for their work on Phantom Geometry, a 5-axis fabrication study of UV-cured resin within a shallow vat system that responded to real-time feed back and feed-forward mechanisms. “In our graduate work, we were really interested in the way free form fabrication would influence architecture,” Kyle recently told AN. “We thought a lot about the potential for the intersection of culture and technology that would be accessible to the public, so printing sugar was that.”
The Von Hasselns began working on a combination of SCI-Arc machinery and printers they built themselves. The initial ambition to 3D-print the entire cake was scaled-back to 3D printing just a sparkling cake topper made only from sugar, a process that Liz likened to a micro architectural challenge. As with any material, working with sugar presented inherent propensities and limitations. However, Liz said the process of working with food had its own distinct challenges. “Because it’s a food object, we’ve found it becomes important to consider those inherent characteristics,” Liz said. “People have expectations about what food looks, tastes, and feels like, and its really important to hit those notes, otherwise you have a cool design that might not look like dessert.”
Once the designers embraced the inherent qualities of the material, they developed a proprietary 3D-printing process capable of fusing sugar crystals together without deforming or discoloring them. The finished product is as white and sparkling as a sugar cube. Though they missed the birthday by a long shot, the end result spelled their friend’s name in a cursive scrawl made entirely from sugar.
Sugar Lab, the Von Hasseln’s company, has yet to build an entire town out of sugar like the utopian village brought to life by Richard Brautigan in his novel In Watermelon Sugar, but the couple has received hundreds of inquiries from around the world. They are also excited about the role of the designer in the 3D printing revolution. “We think what will move the field forward in the future is not solely additional technological enhancement, but how artists, architects, and designers utilize those capabilities,” Liz said. “A 3D printer is a tool and what comes of skilled artisans wielding that tool is what will make the technology resonate with people, and make it culturally relevant.”