Interview with a Cathedral Maker, Michael Curry


Michael Curry didn’t want to spend centuries building a cathedral the old fashioned way, so he made his own Makerbottable cathedral! I was curious about it and asked him some questions.

How did you design this? What program did you use and what was your strategy for breaking it into parts?

The Cathedral is modeled in the free version of Google Sketchup, and exported using a free stl plugin. Inspiration comes from the gothic cathedrals of Europe, with Leon Cathedral in northwest Spain serving as the primary source for the front and transept façades. But the Gothic Cathedral Play Set is intended to be a generic model of the style, not a representation of any one building.

The size of the blocks is dictated by two things, the proportions of the cathedral and the maximum print size of the Makerbot.

To make the proportions work with the module, each part for the Nave includes one full window and two half windows. This way the parts fit together properly and form the correct shape. The Nave dictates the proportions for all the other blocks. The parts will fit together in any configuration, because each part has at least one face that will match any other in the set.

As for the size, the limiting factor is the height of the Makerbot build chamber. Most of the prints end just before the z-stage runs into the top of the machine.

How long did it take? What was the hardest part?

Printing took about four weeks, and had its frustrating moments.

I designed and printed one part at time, which sounds more arduous than it was. There are only 7 parts, 3 of which get mirrored to make their partner. That cut down on modeling and simplifies the digital end of the project.

When printing something tall in the Makerbot the extruder puts a lot of torque on the top layers of the part. It has a tendency to knock the build platform off its base. I lowered the travel speed and used rubber bands to jury-rig a securing system, this way when the part got knocked off I had a chance to grab it an put it back on. There were some white knuckle moments, but we made it through. To everyone hoping to make their own cathedral, remember, failed prints are cheap, but the final result is worth it.

What was your motivation for this?

My background is in architecture, not technology. So this is my contribution to the Makerbot effort. I want people to realize what is possible with the equipment we have now, before they start dreaming about what we can’t do yet.

This is what is possible without a support material. Gothic architecture is driven by the limitations of unreinforced masonry construction. Each stone in a cathedral is supported only by the stones below it. The style is defined not by a desire for a certain look, but by the limitations of the 12th century construction technology. It is the perfect analogue for what an unsupported 3d printer can do. We can achieve incredible results even with basic limitations.

What’s next?

Right now, I’m baking a key lime pie. After that… Well I’ve got a few things I’m working on. I don’t like to share until I know they’re ready. I will say I recently acquired a big box of springs… Just keep watching Thingiverse.

Thanks Michael! We can’t wait to see what you do next!