Stephanie Benoit September 3, 2018

When walking along the Belgian coast today, you would never guess that 100 years ago it was the scene of one of the bloodiest wars in European history: World War I. Only a few traces remain – in Raversijde, you can spot bunkers peeking out from the dunes, including, if you look closely, some remaining coastal artillery. The Atlantikwall Museum in Raversijde allows visitors to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of WWI, and a new exhibition about munition in WWI will bring the coastline of 1914 even more to life. The star of the exhibition is a massive, highly detailed, 3D-printed model which is an exact replica of the coastline as it was during the war.

Details on the 3D-printed coastline model

During the First World War, the Belgian coastline played an important part in German defense strategies. The German army established a number of bunkers which were meant to stop allied ships from embarking, one of which was the Aachen Battery, which is still visible today at the Atlantikwall Museum. Using old aerial photographs taken during 1914-1918, researchers at the museum have precisely recreated an exact digital model of the coastline, faithfully replicating the details down to the last artillery unit. 3D Printing was an obvious choice for realizing the model – compared to hand-made scale models, 3D Printing allowed the museum to obtain an exact, sturdy, perfectly detailed model in a minimum of time.

The coastline model before painting and finishing

At Materialise, our Design and Engineering team received a basic 3D model of the coastline, which they then had to prepare for 3D Printing. There were a few challenges which needed to be overcome, such as the fact that the model also required various textures. Dunes are not just made up of sand; they have a rich and diverse ecosystem with its own plants and dune grasses which needed to be rendered on the model, not to mention the inclusion of details from the German artillery and outposts. Our design engineers used Materialise 3-matic to apply diverse textures directly on the STL file of the model, which required intense collaboration with the museum to get the right textures in the right place.

The model was 2500x450mm, meaning it would take a really large machine to realize the entire structure. To lighten to load, the model was split up into several sections which could later be reassembled, and was strengthened with the application of a honeycomb structure on the inside of the model with Materialise Magics.

Finally, the model was printed with our Mammoth Stereolithography machines, which are capable of achieving the highest level of detail as well as the sheer bulk required to print such a large structure. Smaller, more fragile parts were printed with Laser Sintering, which provided extra sturdiness.

Choosing the colors for the 3D-printed coastline model

Then came the biggest challenge of the project. As the only existing photos of the coast during WWI were in black and white, our in-house coloring expert needed to figure out the exact gradations and colors of the coast without any visual representation. Together with experts from the museum, he tried to achieve the most historically correct coloring based on the available resources and research.

Mathieu de Meyer, Director of the Atlantikwall Museum, says

“The model is an exact historical replica of the coastline during WWI, and the product of months of research and collaboration. When visitors to the exhibition see it, I am confident they will be transported back in time and get a very real idea of how the coast must have looked like 100 years ago during the war.”

See the coastline model for yourself at the Atlantikwall Museum in Raversijde! Or do you also have a project involving scale models? Check out our Architecture page to see what 3D Printing can do for you.

This project was commissioned by Provincie West Vlaanderen and Domein Raversyde, and realized in collaboration with Exponanza.