Sustainability & Innovations

3D Printed Houses

3D Printed Houses? I have years of printing experience: etchings, engravings, lithographs, and silk-screen prints. Printing happens on paper. Printing is ink transferred to paper — or fabric, sides of buildings, and other flat usually absorbent surfaces. A few years ago when teenagers began salivating over art classes in a museum that had a 3D printer, I couldn’t visualize it. But they were making toys and doing craft projects. Then a Maker Space technician said I could 3D print a prototype for any parts I couldn’t find in the hardware store. What? With 2D drawings?

When I finally saw a demonstration, my first thought was there has to be a better name. A 3D printed object looks like dough extruded through a pasta maker or a cookie press. It is a three-dimensional construction process that extrudes various mixtures of materials in the texture of concrete — or firm mud.

There are now several experimental projects around the world of 3D printing houses. And the basic material is in fact mud. Mud mixed with other materials so the dried walls are strong and waterproof.

Extruded 3D Printed Houses

TECLA 3D Printed House in Italy

TECLA a 3D printed house made of local soil by Mario Cucinella Architects.

Fast Company published an article this month aptly titled This wild-looking house is made out of dirt by a giant 3D printer” by Adele Peters. Actually, it isn’t wild looking at all. This example in Italy by Mario Cucinella Architects named TECLA, most resembles an elegant native building constructed horizontally by stacking rolls of mud or bound straw to form curved walls that rise to a domed ceiling. It has the uplifting grace of a Gothic Cathedral and the geometric curvilinear simplicity of Art Deco. The design is very similar to other buildings by Mario Cucinella architects that have breath-taking swerves into space. The unexpected and unusual using conventional architectural materials.

TECLA is composed of two domes with large skylights at the peak. There are a bedroom and a small bathroom in one dome with a living space in the other. Construction is very fast and since it uses local materials, it saves the cost of transporting materials across the country or the time-consuming making, drying, and baking of bricks.

Three Views of TECLA

Fast, Strong, and Inexpensive (relatively)

This construction would be ideal for constructing a community. One dome can be used for a small home or several used to create larger homes and common houses. Most applications of 3D printing are still prototypes or demonstration projects because the technology is new and the machinery is heavy, huge, and expensive. It would make sense to transport it to build a community or village but much too expensive to build one or two. If it follows the same trajectory as other technology, however, it will soon be as affordable as the building materials.

So What Do We Do Now?

Just like the Bumblebee Spaces that are too expensive to even consider for low-cost housing, the 3D printed houses can serve as an example of modern shapes that can be made out of traditional materials like adobe, for example. But there are ideas here for using adobe, straw, geodesic domes, and other alternative materials differently and fitting houses with modern skylights and prefabricated doors and windows.

There is still the problem of getting “strange-looking houses” through the zoning board but even these forms might be acceptable in some parts of the country, like the Southwest. The advantage of collecting examples, particularly designed by world-renown architects, is that they can be used to convince others that this can work. Intimidate the boards with wafts of royalty. Bring in Prince Charles, although he has a fairly conservative take on architecture, at least he cares. And the local board may not know the difference. But to be safe it is probably good to find someone else.

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