Concrete Formwork

Forward AM Enables the Future of Architecture in Concrete

Architecture is the maximum expression of contemporary aesthetics and zeitgeist, showcasing the conceptual and technical aspirations of the age.

A floating concrete staircase hanging on wire ropes and reminiscent of a twisted spine against a light background.

Project Breakdown


Concrete Formwork

Why Forward AM?
Largest portfolio of high-performance AM materials plus deep sector-specific expertise

„Concrete Formwork“ – tailor-made filament for architecture & construction by Forward AM and BigRep

The result
Bespoke concrete stair & bespoke concrete facade panel, enabling innovative architectural projects in concrete

Today’s future-oriented architectural solutions demand designs that are more sustainable and efficient in terms of construction and running costs. New architectural and engineering techniques now enable a wholly new approach to building, with large-scale 3D printing pushing back the boundaries of current construction techniques.

Challenge: Enabling future-proof architecture in concrete

Innovative and unique architectural structures in concrete make a powerful impact on the visibility and presence of individual building projects.

However, when these construction elements become more complex, conventional formwork solutions quickly reach their limits – and in consequence, new and sustainable designs may remain unrealized. This poses a real challenge to architects and designers constantly on the lookout for inspiring new structural designs and next-generation technologies to create more efficient, more sustainable and more ergonomic buildings for the future.

Solution: Large-scale Additive Manufacturing

To overcome this challenge, Forward AM leverages the synergies between three of its main areas of expertise: Virtual Engineering, Additive Manufacturing, and advanced material development. By combining these three pillars we create a seamlessly coherent, digital design-to-production process, giving architects and designers the freedom to realize their articulated projects without incurring extra cost or material waste.

The Forward AM expert team created a design-to-production workflow that enables our customers like construction companies to create a huge range of highly innovative formwork. Our specialists developed a formwork-specific material with outstanding structural strength and form stability that is perfectly suited to large-format 3D printing – three vital criteria in creating the formwork of the future. Utilizing 3D printing technology by BigRep, with its large build volume, we succeeded in realizing this perfect triangle.

Staircase printing formwork; A metal arm to which a triangular shaped piece is attached.
Printing formwork for staircase with the new formwork material on BigRep Studio G2 (Source: Forward AM).
Light gray cast concrete facade panel shaped like spreading waves.
Casted concrete facade panel made by 3D printed formwork (Source: Forward AM).

The “Water Drop Facade” highlights how these three critical aspects played a key role in the success of the project.  It was first parametrically modeled, then redesigned as an optimized 3D printed mold, and finally cast in concrete. It is a perfect example of how digital design combined with the skillful application of 3D printing enables a shorter lead time and can reinforce the concept of materiality in architectural design.

“The 3D printed form designed and produced by Forward AM delivered a very impressive surface effect on the concrete facade panel that we had not seen before – plus we were able to demold it without extra effort.”

Oliver Kirchner, Head of Laboratory, Dressler Bau.

concrete formwork
Shorter lead time through a coherent digital process chain (Source: Forward AM).

Result: End-to-end solution for bespoke concrete structures enabled by 3D printed formwork

The highly advanced concrete structures of the mid 20th century by visionaries such as Erwin Hauer and Pier Luigi Nervi are hardly to be seen anymore. The knowledge and techniques of skilled craftspeople in close collaboration with architects and engineers has almost vanished from today’s construction sites. Today’s architects are once again yearning to realize their highly articulate new designs in concrete. Thanks to Virtual Engineering, glossy or anti-slip surfaces, ornamental features, and functional conduits can now be digitally integrated in the design and parametrically optimized.

“AM is enabling a new digital construction craft, driving the return of these advanced concrete casting techniques and closing the gap between expert craftsmanship and automated construction. The “Bespoke Stair at NEST Step2” is a superb example – it shows what is possible when you skillfully combine digital design expertise, the right fabrication tools, and the best-fit material solution.”

Jörg Petri, Business Development Manager Architecture & Construction, Forward AM.

3D model of the interlocking formwork parts for concreting the steps, with a 3D printed original part to the right.
Advanced concrete casting enabled by 3D printed formwork (Source: Forward AM).

The vision of the “Bespoke Stair at Nest Step2” is to broaden the design possibilities of concrete stairs and minimize the extra cost, material waste, and labor previously associated with customization and complexity.

On the left a model of a light gray 3D printed concrete stair step against a white background, on the right a conventional concrete spiral staircase with weight and volume compared to a concrete spiral staircase made with 3D printed formwork.
Digitally optimized 3D stair design enabling a >50% weight reduction vs. a conventional staircase structure (Source: Forward AM).

Within its radically innovative and form-active design, the new stair optimally integrates human ergonomics and safety features while lowering weight by 50% compared to conventional concrete staircases. This weight reduction also results in a lower CO2 footprint as less cement, concrete, and freight fuel are required.

concrete formwork
Bespoke stair at Nest Step2 made from 3D printed formwork (Source: Digital Building Technologies – ETH Zurich).

The excellent structural properties of ultra-high performance fiber-reinforced concrete enable very thin, complex forms that are simply impossible with regular reinforced concrete. Even though the bespoke stair is perceived as one coherent sculptural element, it is discretized into individual steps. Its lightweight, structurally efficient elements are prefabricated and then assembled onsite. A state-of-the-art, shape memory post-tensioning system in high-tech alloy secures the assembly’s structural integrity for the long term.

Forward AM developed a highly dimensionally stable, rigid formwork material and fine-tuned it for the BigRep ONE and BigRep Studio 3D printers to enable these groundbreaking structures in concrete. The combination of leading-edge materials and printing technology delivers a ready-to-use, end-to-end sustainable fabrication solution to realize your bespoke formwork with a very short lead time.

“Thanks to our productive collaboration with Forward AM and BigRep, the development of smart formwork systems for bespoke high-performance concrete structures has become reality.”

Prof. Dr. Benjamin Dillenburger, Digital Building Technologies, ETH Zurich.

Co-creation team “Bespoke Stair” at the upcoming NEST unit STEP2 to be built at Empa in Zürich with BASF as main partner: 

Stair Design by Digital Building Technologies – ETH Zurich with ROK, BASF Forward AM, SW Umwelttechnik & BASF RA/OIT

3D Printed Formwork Solution BASF Forward AM, Precast Concrete SW Umwelttechnik, Structural Design Walt Galmarini, Architecture ROK

How does the process work? Customers need nothing more than an idea or first design concept – we at Forward AM transfer it in a digital file, take care of printing the desired formwork, we ship the part to where the form will be casted in concrete, e.g prefab plant or building site – and the final application can be integrated in innovative construction projects:

Process description of the five steps for the implementation of high-performance concrete formwork constructions from the idea through digitization and printing to shipping and application.

Harness the outstanding structural and efficiency benefits of Additive Manufacturing to realize your high-performance concrete formwork designs.

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