Would You Live In A 3D Printed House?

The potential of additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, to change the way buildings are made is indisputable. It’s being touted as a solution to challenges in our cities ranging from the need for affordable housing to infrastructure modernisation. The process has been slow, but it may well be a key ingredient in the future of the building industries.

3D printed house image via Shutterstock

Rob Malkin is director of architecture, engineering, construction and infrastructure for Asia Pacific at design software company Autodesk.

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In the last two years, technological advances in scalability are allowing 3D printing to move beyond small-scale architectural models and prototypes. It is now being used in actual housing and infrastructure construction—achieving lower labor costs and finally delivering those long-promised economies of scale.

Helped along by the increasing prevalence of digital 3D modelling software for building and infrastructure design, some of the new results are pretty mind-boggling, too.

Here are three of the latest examples from around the world, which reveal the ways in which 3D printing is changing approaches to architecture, engineering and construction.

1. Kurilpa Bridge, Brisbane

Arup’s ‘root’ supports for the Kurilpa Bridge in Brisbane, Australia. Image credit Arup.

Road and bridge infrastructure is just as important as housing to make cities liveable and workable. Until recently, direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), essentially 3D printing metal parts, was used extensively in the aerospace and automotive industries. But it was not explored thoroughly for usability and cost-effectiveness for bridges and other types of urban infrastructure. The primary reason is because each bridge is a unique design and the savings from prototyping and manufacturing aren’t as obvious.

Moving now to Australia, global engineering firm Arup was tasked with creating components for an unconventional pedestrian bridge. Arup decided to use 3D printing as an internal research project to determine how a laser-sintered, printed metal part could hold up to structural standards. The parts for such a bridge also had to be load-bearing connections.

Arup’s engineers came up with a complex design with “root” supports and extra struts were added to the part to support it during printing. The struts allowed for a hollow design that reduced the overall weight of the bridge node and was more aesthetically pleasing than a traditionally machined one. The design and production of the bridge nodes allowed new degrees of design freedom and Arup is already using the research on other projects.

2. Canal House, Amsterdam

3D Print Canal House. Image credit DUS Architects.

The first entrant in the race to build a fully 3D-printed house is Amsterdam’s DUS Architects. Using The KamerMaker (room builder), a 20-foot-tall custom 3D printer created by DUS and Ultimaker, the architecture firm has been printing a house along one of Amsterdam’s famous canals bit by bit for the last year-and-a-half and expects to have it completed in 2015.

The KamerMaker works essentially like a larger version of a desktop Makerbot. The printer head extrudes the melted plastic material along the programmed path on the X and Y axes and when finished moves up one step along the Z axis. Unlike its desktop cousin, it can print whole rooms.

The exterior walls of the Canal House cover a range of sustainable materials, including Hotmelt—a type of industrial glue developed by German chemicals manufacturer Henkel. Comprised of 80 per cent vegetable oil, Hotmelt is used to form bio-based plastics. DUS and Henkel are also experimenting with eco-concrete. They are testing out a variable concrete mix that allows the team to add insulative material and colour to the wall sections. Once printed, the wall sections fit together sort of like Lego.

While the Canal House won’t be completed until next year, it has already created several innovations, including one of the largest-scale 3D printers in the world and advances in sustainable materials.

3. WinSun Houses, Shanghai

On the other side of world comes an entirely different perspective on 3D-printed housing. While the Canal House is experimental, architecturally elegant and pushes the envelope of materials science and constructibility, it will take three years to complete.

Meanwhile, Shanghai WinSun Decoration Design Engineering claims to have erected 10 3D-printed houses—each costing about $4,800—in less than 24 hours.

There’s some debate over whether Shanghai WinSun’s houses are genuinely a 3D creation because they were printed not as a single item, but in parts that were then assembled onsite. But the feat is impressive nonetheless.

The simple, concrete-framed buildings were made using an enormous 3D printer that is 150 meters long, 10 meters wide and 6.6 meters high. The houses each cover an area of 200 square meters and were designed to someday provide affordable housing to the homeless.

The 3D-printed “ink” of each structure is a combination of recycled construction and industrial waste materials formed into structural concrete and wall panels.

These houses may not win any design awards, but the manufacturing concept that delivered them so cheaply and quickly is a leap forward in sustainable tilt-up construction. The process contains costs and could be applied to solving housing crises in major cities around the world.

New Uses For 3D Printing

The above examples are just three among the many new uses of 3D printing at building scale that are popping up around the world. They clearly point to a world where advances in 3D-modelling software in combination with advances 3D-printing technologies (both in terms of size and materials like concrete and carbon fibre) will allow architecture and construction professionals to more efficiently and more sustainably design and implement building solutions for our rapidly urbanising planet.

As the organic form of Arup’s root supports suggest, 3D printing may also indicate a future of beautiful new architecture and infrastructure in our cities.

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    I worked in Civil Engineering for nearly a decade, this stuff is entirely feasible and not just science fiction, once earthworks have been completed, and the house pads are laid down. Construction crews would just need to adapt to the process in situ.

    Last edited 10/11/14 11:01 am

    yep i would, cheaper easier and less costly to build and repair

    Would You Live In A 3D Printed House?Yep..! Why Not..? :)

      The house would be 1 third of the price and you could move into your new home within a week.

        If you knew anything about building a house, you would realize that the quick part is building the actual she'll of the house. The part that takes the longest is the fitting of everything in it. That drags on for ever.
        I could cut the timber and make the walls in a couple of days, erect walls in another couple of days, nail the roof trusses in another couple, doors in another couple of days (lock up stage) but the rest of the house would take 6 months.
        Even having the shell of the house printed, it would still take 6 months for the fitting out stage.

          Going through it now. The paperwork takes far longer than building the shell. Bought the land in march and still haven't started yet lol. Not sure if 3d printing would help with that.

            Good point and yes you're right unfortunately.

    That's all good and fine but building a house with timber (studs, bottom and top plates) concrete and gyprock is still far cheaper than any other materials (bar cow poo and straw). They already advertise houses to be built for you for as low as 140 grand and they are good sized homes. I think that's complete with carpets, kitchen and bathrooms. It's not the houses that cost so much money but it's the land. Average house and land package is 750 grand and when you minus the 140 grand for the house, that leaves 610 grand that you are paying for the land. If they really want to make things cheaper, print more land.

    Last edited 10/11/14 11:34 am

      If a house is nothing more than shelter then go with the cheapest price but if you wanted to build something other than a standard brick veneer rectilinear box then perhaps Antonio Gaudi is welcome :-)

        Doesn't matter about the shape or the materials of the outside as they are all built the same. Being a carpenter I can tell you that from the most expensive to the cheapest, they're all built the same way.


        All houses are made the same way. Top plate, bottom plate and studs. That's how all walls are made. Been that way since the beginning. Roof trusses go on top of the outside walls. Internal walls skinned with plaster board. The outside of the house is either cement sheet which gets rendered, brick, concrete block which gets rendered, wood paneling or solid concrete walls that get rendered.
        The only difference between houses is the layout of rooms and things like tiles, carpets and windows.
        Basically, if you can build a box, you can build a house.

    We currently live in houses built of stacked lumps of clay glued together by hand, why would using a machine to do it be less safe or effective?

    Let's not forget Behrock Khoshnevis's 3D concrete printer, that can even install modular wiring & plumbing as it prints.

      Wow, title should be changed to "would you live in a 3D printed house with 3D printed hydraulics and electrical components". What an exciting new era of construction we've entered!

    Whilst there is nothing wrong with the idea of a 3D printed house, it looks like an interesting technology that will allow us to do things that weren't previously possible. But it will not do anything to solve any housing affordability crises we have, as they are a result of inflated land costs rather than construction costs. We're perfectly capable of producing decent quality housing at low cost with existing manufacturing technologies.

    "more sustainably design and implement building solutions for our rapidly urbanising planet" what a load or rubbish...

    ..and there does not need to be any "advances", this is just re-applying existing control methods to a different material form.

    No. I'd rather have a nice brick house than live in a plastic house. Wood is much more pleasing than plastic.

    I lived in a monocrete house once - it was awful.
    Built in the early 60's. Concrete reinforced slabs laid, then rotated & lifted into place as walls. Froze every winter (Laverton, Melbourne) and boiled every summer.
    To persuade me to live in house again, "free" isn't enough. You'd need an industrial strength reverse cycle air conditioner system, about 3 times the power of one for a conventional house. Then you'd need to offer me to pay the bills to run THAT - for life.

    Have a look at www.hsbLABS.com. How to make a model out of Revit!

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