Architects and civil engineers around the world are in a rush to build the first fully functional houses with the help of massive 3D printers. Last year, the Chinese company Winsun claimed it had 3D printed ten houses in just one day, each costing less than 5000 USD. A Dutch team of architects is printing a traditional Dutch house with sustainable materials along one of the canals in Amsterdam. The 3D printed canal house serves both as a research project and a museum to encourage people to engage with the technology.
Meanwhile, professor Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California is working on a method involving a giant 3D printer that aims at printing an entire house from start to finish. He says that construction is especially well suited for 3D printing since the building industry already employs additive manufacturing techniques and the new digital tools such as architectural software and 3D printers that can take the industry through its next evolution are now available.
Across the Atlantic, similar approaches gain momentum. A few weeks ago, UK-based Loughborough University signed a deal with the construction company Skanska and the architecture firm Foster + Partners to develop commercial 3D architectural printing. The university has been using 3D printing in its civil engineering and architectural research for several years, experimenting with concrete and other construction materials. Now, the goal is to develop the world’s first commercial concrete printing robot, which could drastically change how work is done in the construction sector.
The excitement around 3D printing in the construction sector can in part be attributed to its novelty but there are also other good reasons behind the drive to explore this technology. In the Western world, architects see the potential to 3D print intricate designs and complex structures that have been extremely difficult and expensive to make using traditional methods. In other parts of the world, 3D printing is seen as a way to provide inexpensive housing for people who are currently unable to afford real houses and live in shelters or semi-permanent structures. One of the advantages of 3D printed houses or house kits is that all the service lines for buildings such as pipes and cables can be included in one unit from the start.
The company D-Shape is also working on large-scale 3D printed construction applications. It developed a robotic building system using new materials to create stone-like structures. In addition to houses, D-Shape offers printed bus stops, swimming pools and fantasy buildings for playgrounds. Over the next 2 years, D-Shape is working with New York architect and contractor Adam Kushner to build the first 3D printed house in New York. According to an article on 3Dprint.com, Kushner expects to save more than 40 % in costs compared to traditional building methods because in traditional construction, labor costs are a major contributor to the final costs.