3D printing a house

The RC 3Dp, the 3D printer that can move around and print concrete. Credit: CyBe

A 3D printed pedestrian footbridge, 12 meters long and almost two meters wide, positioned across a small creek in the public Castilla La Mancha Park in Alcobendas, Madrid. Credit: Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia

3D printing houses is nothing new, although it is not commonplace. However, so far 3D printing a house was either made by printing parts of the house in a factory where the 3D printer was or by assembling a 3D printer on site.

Now a Dutch company, CyBe Construction, is offering a 3D printer able to printe concrete and to move around, like a caterpillar. This should greatly simply the work on site and further lower cost.

If you read this post in Europe you might wonder if there is a market for this type of products (or probably I should say service: house printing on demand). For the kind of houses we are used to in most European Countries the answer is probably no, with possibly a few exceptions that are not enough to create a sustainable market.

In other Countries, however, the story is completely different.

In India there is currently a shortage of 26+ million houses, and most of them are required by low income people, thus making the matter worse.

3D printing can provide an answer to this demand. The "ink" being used is actually a mix of concrete and waste products, appropriately treated, and this result in lower cost for the construction material. The 3D printing process can build one family house  in a day, much faster than any other way of construction (notice that by building 1 house per day it would take 71,232 years to build the needed 26 million homes, some heavy parallelism is obviously needed!).

One could imagine to have a few of these 3D house printers per village, that would start to make a difference.

The printed house is also very resistant to earthquake and to atmospheric damages, like torrential rain. It is like a sealed box with no fracture/weak points. Another plus for several regions in third world Countries.

This is an area where technology can really make a difference. NASA is looking at 3D printing processes to create future dwellings on the Moon and beyond, and someone, down on Earth, is speculating a printing whole cities. 

The aesthetic results are not good, at least to my eye. A printed house looks more like a box than a nice and cosy home. However, a 3D printer could actually be used to create architectures that would defy normal constructions methods, so in principle it would be possible to create even more pleasing houses than te best ones we see today. The problem, of course, is the manufacturing cost. 

However, as 3D home printing will start to grow, we are bound to see much more diversity in the products and out of that we will start to see better and more pleasing houses. I bet that by 2050 addictive manufacturing will take the upper hand and today's way of building a house will seem a thing of the past, unable to deliver to the expectations of the future dwellers.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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