From fashion to healthcare, to creating tiny cameras that fit on animals for a BBC nature documentary, 3D printing has many uses and can provide numerous benefits. But could this innovative technology also be used for buildings?
Numerous companies have already succeeded. As Wired reports, Chinese construction company WinSun successfully printed 10 houses in one day in 2013, using a mix of cement, sand and recycled materials. It then went on to print a six-storey apartment block, office building and 11,000-square-foot mansion.
In 2016, the ‘Office of the Future’ was printed at the foot of the Emirates Tower in Dubai. According to The National, this was just the beginning of UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s vision. He aims to have a quarter of Dubai’s buildings based on 3D printing technology by 2030, with the first villa to be unveiled soon.
Last year, Russian company Apis Cor unveiled a 3D printer that built a house on the spot in less than 24 hours.
Apis Cor’s Head of Marketing, Anna Cheniuntai, believes the technology could be the future of building construction. Speaking to Wired, she said: “Using our technology, we can build houses faster, cheaper, and qualitatively enough with a small number of people involved. It allows us to provide affordable housing for a lot of people in [a] short period of time.”
And Apis Cor isn’t the only company to believe 3D printed buildings could be more than just a fad. At this year’s SXSW technology festival, San Francisco-based housing charity New Story and construction technology company ICON unveiled a 350-square-foot, proof-of-concept structure – the first 3D printed house in the US to meet local housing code, Wired notes.
While traditional methods take New Story eight months to build a community of 100 homes, costing around $6,000 each, a 3D printer could enable the charity to build one home a day, at a cost of $4,000. It now hopes to bring this sustainable design to El Salvador, Bolivia, Haiti and Mexico to provide a home to those currently without shelter.
So, will the building sites of the future feature 3D printers? It’s clear the technology has the potential to transform construction and design and, as it advances, the tech will become cheaper and more accessible.
But what about building standards? Guglielmo Carra, Materials Consulting Lead for Europe at Arup, an engineering company that has experimented with printing metal building materials, believes regulations will evolve as the technology consolidates.
As amazing as 3D-printed buildings are, it is important that architects and construction companies don’t forget about that value of design.
Carra added: “It might sound like a less relevant problem in relation to the housing crisis, but this is an opportunity to bring better looking housing to certain parts of the world. Nicer environments, nicer neighbourhoods, with buildings that don’t have to look identical and can have variation without incurring extra costs.”