In architecture, 3D printing has been used to create design models of proposed projects, allowing many options to be developed quickly, and to make components for buildings . Three projects have been published where 3D printing is being used to make complete houses. Will this technology revolutionise the domestic building industry?
Last year, in Amsterdam, DUS architects started using a 6m tall, purpose-built printer called the KamerMaker (Dutch for ‘room maker’) to print components for the first “3D-Print Canal House” from plastic. Each part of the building is initially printed as a 1:20 scale model on a smaller printer, before being printed in its final size by the larger printer. The KamerMaker is housed at the architectural practice where visits and tours can be arranged. The production process has already begun and, in May, the main structural shaft walls started construction, cast with Henkel’s Eco-concrete to create the structural framework of the house.
The 3D Print Canal House is an exhibition, research and building site for 3D Printing Architecture in the heart of Amsterdam. The project is partially funded by the design partners and by the municipality of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Fund for the Arts and the DOEN Foundation.
DUS architects is known for its designs for temporary architecture and has suggested that the structure of the house may be changed and amended as 3D-printing technology evolves and more sophisticated finishes are made possible. Although it is not confirmed if the house will remain as a permanent addition to the Amsterdam city and arts scene, it is planned to remain for at least three years.
Across in China, the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co has published details of its ten 3D printed houses which have been built entirely out of recycled materials in less than 24 hours.
This has been achieved using a huge 3D printer measuring 32m long by 10m wide and 6.6m high which can fully print the basic shells of the 200 sq m houses using a mixture of cement and construction waste as the base material. According to the company, the printer was designed several years ago. “We purchased parts for the printer overseas, and assembled the machine in a factory in Suzhou,” said WinSun’s CEO, Ma Yihe. “Such a new type of 3D-printed structure is environment-friendly and cost-effective.”
The inexpensive materials used during the printing process and the mechanised process means each house can be printed for under $5,000 (around £3,000). Ma Yihe says that the company plans to build an entire village with their printer and they also plan to build 100 recycling facilities around China to help keep up with demand. China has also announced the first 3D printed house project will be located in Qingdao.
The houses’ components are checked for quality as they are being erected because there are no building codes yet for 3D-printing construction in China. WinSun uses a special quick-dry cement to speed up the process.
“We can print buildings to any digital design our customers bring us. It’s fast and cheap,” says Ma Yihe. He hopes his printers can be used to build skyscrapers in the future but that will mean the development of Chinese construction regulations to allow multi-storey 3D-printed houses.
This technology could have great benefits in disaster and impoverished areas where there is need for basic, simple and affordable housing.
Most recently, in Minnesota USA, Andrey Rudenko, a contractor with experience in both engineering and architecture, has built a concrete 3D printer in his garage which he proposes to use to build a two story home. Rudenko constructed the printer with input and feedback from the RepRap community and the printer extrudes layers of a concrete/sand mixture.
Unlike the relatively small houses printed in China, Rudenko plans to 3D print a two-story home that is 10m x 15m in size with primary plumbing, insulation and electrical systems built in. Work will begin on the house this summer.
Following the two story house, Rudenko is planning to print an energy efficient home, “I plan to print a contemporarily-designed energy-saving house heavily relying on thermal mass energy storage principles.”
In the meantime he is constructing a castle to test the technology. “I’ve done a lot of experimenting on small structures; now I’m printing medium-sized structures, including the 3 x 5m castle. I’m choosing to print a castle form because it allows me to include a variety of different shapes and elements, including arches, etc, in addition to the fact that a medium-sized structure is the only size I can legally print in my backyard…The castle will take about a week for the setup, printing, and making of the video.” He also plans to invite interested students to come along and view the process, “I’m also thinking of inviting architectural/engineering students to attend the printing sessions. He added, I’m creating an international community of people involved with this work who could interact, discuss, and share concepts to further this technology.”
In some ways these 3D printing examples are a natural development of concrete house-building technologies which generally rely on site-poured concrete with the mess, inaccuracies and risks from weather that comes from such operations. 3D printing could revolutionise domestic construction, as prefabrication has done to other aspects of the building process.
This would of course mean a cultural change. As Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate, says “At a time when a lot of Americans are worried about their jobs being made obsolete by technology, construction workers were probably the one group that never imagined they might someday be put out of work by a computer.”