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These 3D printed hermit crab shells are the swankiest digs a crustacean could ever have

Why it matters to you

When it comes to original use-cases for 3D printing, very little beats these city-inspired 3D-printed shelters by Japanese artist Aki Inomata.

When you think about exciting uses for 3D printing, what is the first thing that pops into your mind? 3D-printed houses for hermit crabs, created to resemble famous cityscapes around the world, right? I mean, obviously.

If you do indeed think this way, you will likely find an ally in Japanese artist Aki Inomata. Inspired by an exhibition she participated in almost a decade ago, Inomata has spent much of her time since then creating a unique series of 3D-printed “shells” for hermit crabs: The family of crustaceans which protect themselves from protectors using scavenged gastropod shells.

“This work was inspired by the fact that the land of the former French Embassy in Japan had been French until October 2009, and then became Japanese for the following 50 years, after which it will be returned to France,” she notes on her website. “I was surprised to hear this story and associated this image with the way that hermit crabs exchange shelters … The hermit crabs in my piece, who exchange shelters representing cities of the world, seem to be crossing over national borders. It also brings to mind migrants and refugees changing their nationalities and the places where they live.”

Inomata started by creating spherical shaped shelters for the crabs but found that they were ignored.

“Using CT scans, I studied the natural shapes of hermit crab shells, and by printing out the 3DCG data using 3D printers, I was able to create ‘shelters’ that the hermit crabs would move into,” she continued. Since then, she created a number of 3D-printed hermit crab shells in a broad range of architectural styles — from New York City skyscrapers to tiny windmills reflecting the Zaanse Schans neighborhood in the Netherlands.

While the digital files are not, as far as we can tell, available online, you can order prints from Inomata’s website.