Building a School in Just 18 Hours: 3D Printing as a Driver For Improving Social Infrastructure in Non-Industrial Countries

Education officials in Malawi are thrilled: The world’s first school has been printed in their country. How 3D printing can enable building 36 classrooms in just 10 years.

Chalkboard with Chalk Sticks

A school built in just 18 hours – that’s a reality come true in Malawi. Situated there is the first school that comes from a 3D printer. Classes have been held since mid-June. The initiator of the project is 14 Trees, a joint venture between the CDC Group, based in the UK, and the French-Swiss multinational building materials company Lafarge Holcim. 14 Trees aims to build affordable housing, schools and social infrastructure in Malawi and other African countries.

3D Printing Buildings: Creating Jobs For Local People

The building was initially produced in the village of Kalonga in the African State of Malawi before being moved to Gambe-Zone in the Salima district, since the school needed to be set up there. The walls were created using a BOD2 model 4-4-2 from Danish 3D printing construction company COBOD. The construction printer is able to print concrete structures up to 10 meters long and wide and three meters high. Within 18 hours the walls of the new school were ready. It now measures 56 square meters in total. The printing procedure is not yet a fully automated process. 

What may initially appear to be a weakness of the method, however, strengthens the local labor market by creating new jobs. In this case, local workers were hired to install doors, windows and the roof. Juliana Kuphanga Chikandila, Primary Education Advisor, representing the Director of Education, Youth, and Sports in Malawi is enthusiastic about the opportunities the new construction process has to offer and highlights the importance of a proper place of education for future and even former students in the area: 

“I am very impressed by the new building — its durability and design provide the space and facilities that students did not have before. This school will attract more students, and those students that had left will return to education,”

says Kuphanga Chikandila.

Tackling The Shortage of Schools

With using 3D construction printing technology, social infrastructure could be massively expanded in non-industrialized countries, especially tackling the shortage of schools and housing. According to Unicef, Malawi alone currently lacks at least 36,000 classrooms. While this backlog would take 70 years to make up using conventional construction methods, according to 14 Trees the infrastructure gap could be closed in as little as 10 years. Construction projects would therefore be massively accelerated. Another benefit of constructing buildings using 3D printing is that it can reach areas that are difficult for conventional machines and personnel to get to. It is supposedly also kinder to the environment with the ecological footprint of 3D printing construction being 50 percent smaller than that of conventional methods, making it more sustainable.

What Happens Next?

What happens now that the construction of the school is completed? 

“Now that we have demonstrated the concept in Malawi, we look forward to extending this technology across the region,” 

says Miljan Gutovic, Holcim Group’s regional manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The company has similar projects planned in Kenya and Zimbabwe. A 3D-printed school is also planned for Madagascar, with construction to take place sometime this year.

What do you think about the plan to radically improve the lack of schools and housing with the help of 3D printing? Let us know in the comments!

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