In 1851, London's Crystal Palace was unveiled to the world.
Its gigantic interior housed the first World's Fair, called "The Great Exhibition." With an interior height of 39 meters, a length of 564 meters, and a footprint of 92,000 square meters, it was the largest prefabricated building in the world. Its clear cut glass and iron structure embodied a watershed moment in prefabricated construction.
Since the mid-19th century, the idea of using modular components in design has never really been challenged. Until now.
3D printing has been on our radar for a few years, but the culmination of its abilities now enables a Chinese company, Winsun, to actually print houses. According to a Xinhuanet report, Winsun was able to print 10 houses in one day:
The array consists of four printers that are 10 meters wide and 6.6 meters high and use multi-directional automated sprays. The sprays emit a combination of cement and construction waste that is used to print building walls layer-by-layer.
"With the 3D printing, we recycle mine tailings [residue from mined ore] into usable materials," Ma Yihe, the system's inventor, told Xinhuanet. "And we can print buildings with any digital design our customers bring us. It's fast and cheap."
Not only that, but the system also seems to be very environmentally friendly. It allows zero material wastage and minimal contact with substances that can be hazardous to construction workers, such as cement dust, because the printers are using a quick-drying premixed spray.
But it's not just the booming Chinese technology firms that are thinking big when it comes to 3D printing. Anna Holligan, a BBC technology journalist, was shown around the Amsterdam facilities of DUS Architects. The firm is printing an eco house made from "a plastic heavily based on plant oil." The components come to life within a giant container that houses the printer, suspended from the ceiling. The firm's dream is to create a printable mixture using recycled plastic bags, creating homes that, by their very construction, have a very low embodied energy.
In an interview with CNN, Martine de Wit, director and co-founder of DUS, said that the house currently being printed will "take the shape of a 13-room canal house made from scores of separate but interlocking components." She also envisages "the possibility to design something, send it digitally and then print it exactly in the place that you need it rather than transporting everything to the location."
But some have questioned whether 3D printed houses will be attractive to mainstream homebuyers. In a New Statesman article, Ian Steadman writes:
3D printing does what it does cheaply and quickly by skipping over or ignoring construction materials and designs that a lot of people like. Wooden floors with a bit of give, for instance, or brick walls, or wooden skirting boards.
He cites Wallace Neff's 1941 concrete bubble houses as an historical example of an elegant, simple, cheap design that, though popular with some, ultimately never caught on. Only one of these houses is still standing in Pasadena, Calif. The other 11 were demolished.
Some prefabricated housing designs from the UK, built during and after the Second World War, have stood the test of time better. Airey Houses, named after its architect designer, were built in large numbers during the war. They were quick and cheap to construct, and they were intended to last only 10 years. Many are still inhabited and are now being renovated to exceed environmental performance regulations. Amazingly, these futuristic homes are now being clad in red brick to meet homebuyers' taste for the traditional.
The concept of fully prefabricated housing in the UK did not last, and the "pre-fabs" that survive have been highly personalised in the years since their construction. This should teach designers and home builders that personalisation of the home is very important; though some people love futuristic, minimalist home design, many still do not.
It may take many years for 3D printed houses to become more than just a novelty, but one thing is for certain: 3D printed components will find their way into the house builder's pattern books very soon.
Does 3D printing have a substantive future as a technology for home design? Let us know what you think.
Pre fab Yes it seems crazy that house builders are not utilising pre fabricated components more. They already pre fabricate roof trusses, why not walls with windows inbuilt. I suppose its down to initial cost but surely its better to have parts that can be reused or moved if a house in a particular area is not able to be sold, the developer could simply move it to a more fluid market area nearby. Sounds crazy but I am sure this will happen.
Re: 3D printing walls It would seem that current "manufactured housing" companies could enter this design and manufacturing business rather efficiently. The are already set up to mass produce the walls and modules needed for buidling inexpensive housing. Roll in the new equipment and start putting the pieces together right in the factory, and roll the finished housing to the job sites.
Frank Lloyd Wright Hi Toby, I love his work. I think that as you say being able to recreate fixtures and fittings using a 3d printing method is very useful. Also Frank lloyd Wright was a pioneer in prebaricated blocks that he filled with concrete so I am sure he would approve of automation in that sense, but he would warn that to get rif of the artisan would be criminal. I think we will see a real synergy of bespoke and prefab components in this century. Much as we have seen fossil fuel consumption tempered by climate awareness, maybe we will see the consumer bubble tempered by a return to quality as well as value. True design is both efficient and beautiful so I suppose the world is you oyster whatever mediumor method you use.
What we need Is a widely cutomizable base plan for a home. The costs of a one off over mass produced is much the same with a 3D printed option and the issue of things having personality is addressed so as people feel they have their own version down to the shape of the windows and height of the ceilings.
Personlized homes Interesting stuff. I have been also reading that the Atomic Energy Commission in this country (the UK) is planning on 3D priniting as a way of cuttng costs on Nuclear plants when they need to replace parts made over 50 years ago and where the individual manufacturing costs using tradtional methods would be huge. Simple and clever approach. If you think about the likes of a Frank Lloyd Wright house with all of its custom-made fittings which are basiacally impossible to replace to day, perhaps that is another niche in the domestic construction market for 3D printing to fill.
Extruding Hi Terry, yeah thats a point, The term 3D printing can be a bit misleading to people who envisage giant printers like some kind of crazy giant land! I think that your term 'Industrial Extruding' or a similarly descriptive term would be more apt.
Re: 3D printing walls I love the prospects for this emerging technology, but can we call it something other than 3D printing? How about industrial extruding, since once you stop using ink and load up the cement you're in a very different realm and scale indeed.
Re: 3D printing The idea of 3D is entirely feasible if government agencies and manufacturers can come together with codes that don't limit their usefulness. This might be more difficult than it seems as the technology will certainly be changing rapidly using a variety of materials that would need testing and engineering.
3D printing walls I agree, I personally see 3D printers being used to build the shell of a house, ie all the walls with opening precut for windows and doors and letting tradespeople and construction workers do the rest, that means houses can be being printed while another house is getting fitted out post printing phase, so I see 3D printers as becoming a new technology used on site rather than in a factory. put up a tent print the house, move the tent, print another house, fascinating possibilities.
3D printing As 3D printing for building house becomes common and designs are made that can only be accomplished at a reasonable cost with 3D printing it will become another choice in construction methods.
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