Thank you for registering to receive future NHBC New Homes newsletters.
What do the Dutch capital, the ancient city of Suzhou in eastern China and the University of Southern California all have in common?
It may seem like a trick question, but all three cities have recently found themselves host to innovators in the world of 3D printing, each offering a unique perspective on the ways in which this emerging technology could redefine how we build, and how we think about, our homes.
The United Nations estimates show that, by 2040, the global population will reach 9 billion. At the forefront of the projected population growth is China, a nation already committed to raising entire cities to house its future citizens. However, conventional construction processes on this scale are costly and resource-intensive and, in a century increasingly marked by our need for greater environmental and economic efficiencies, industry thinkers are beginning to look to 3D printing for potential solutions.
In Suzhou, once one of the largest cities in the world, Chinese construction company WinSun has pioneered a method that has ‘printed’ ten full-sized single-storey houses in a single day. The printer used by WinSun resembles a strikingly large cake decorator, with latticed walls being formed by the layering of quick-drying concrete in patterns that deliver structural integrity without added steel reinforcements. The buildings, which resemble slightly monolithic beach huts, are projected to cost little more than £3000 to build and arrive complete with sliding doors and gabled roofs.
The nozzle of the 3D printer even leaves room for plumbing, electrical wiring and insulation, all of which are added after construction. As if not impressive enough, the concrete used by WinSun is comprised of recycled industrial waste and the remnants of demolished buildings – a feature that is perhaps as revolutionary as the method itself.
In Amsterdam, architects at Dus Architects aim to take the technology to undeveloped countries and into the world of international humanitarian efforts. The architects’ 3D printer sits inside an upturned shipping container and uses a bio-plastic mix, 75% of which is plant oil, to print a multitude of shapes and designs that fit neatly together to form a completed building. A project lead at Dus Architects’ told The Guardian:
“The building industry is one of the most polluting and inefficient industries out there… With 3D printing, there is zero waste, reduced transportation costs, and everything can be melted down and recycled.”
The company hopes to refine the process and deliver their self-contained 3D-printer and designs to parts of the world desperately looking for fast, efficient and eco-friendly building solutions. In the near future, it is hoped, the 3D printer could eliminate the tents and corrugated iron vistas that have come to signify global poverty.
At the University of California, engineers are pioneering a technology known as ‘Contour Crafting’ that looks to take 3D printing into the worlds of urban and suburban building design. Over the last seven years a multidisciplinary team, led by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, has been developing a colossal gantry that has potential to print complex, multi-storey structures in one neatly layered piece.
In effect, the researchers’ aim is to engineer a device that can construct homes and high-rise buildings virtually unaided by human hands. Not unlike the machines that unerringly drill, bolt and paint our cars on production lines, their printer sits on a pair of runs that allow it to print tall, intricate structures over large areas of land. Aside from a few human overseers, the printer will be left to raise buildings until tradesmen arrive to install plumbing, electrics and fittings. If the technology develops as predicted, the researchers hope, it could even be sent to prepare colonies on Mars well before the arrival of humans!
The potential applications of 3D printing are almost too vast to comprehend, reaching deep into the realms of medicine, entertainment, engineering and construction. Given the leaps being made by innovators like WinSun, Dus Architects and the University of California, steps are already being taken towards a 21st century that is distinctly nozzle-shaped.
We will get back to you as soon as possible.