“People think you hit a button
and print and a product comes out.
But, it’s more complicated than
that...[and has] a pretty long
—JEAN-JACQUES L’HENAFF, LIXIL AMERICAS
A 3D-printed home in
Texas, created with ICON’s
Vulcan printer, may be
a precursor to solving
throughout the globe.
Houses for the World
In the realm of construction, today, we also are seeing the remarkable
beginnings of 3D-printed buildings. In 2016, for example, architecture firm
Gensler saw completion of the world’s first 3D-printed office building, or
actually buildings: a group of single-story, 2,600-square-foot structures
that became the headquarters for the Dubai Future Foundation. Each was
fabricated with concrete-producing 3D printers in Shanghai, then shipped
to Dubai and assembled. Gensler estimated labor costs were cut by up to
75 percent and overall construction waste by roughly half.
More recently, the Texas-based construction technologies company ICON
partnered with housing nonprofit New Story to eventually build scores,
or possibly even hundreds, of 3D-printed homes in the developing world,
beginning in 2019. As a kind of proof of concept earlier this year, they created
the nation’s first permitted 3D-printed home in Austin, Texas: a modest
350-square-foot concrete dwelling, completed at a cost of less than $4,000
and within 48 hours. The printer, manufactured by ICON, was a prototype
on which the company believes it’s about to improve.
“The prototype worked wonderfully. Now, we have to make it a scalable
piece of technology,” notes Jason Ballard, ICON’s co-founder and CEO.
He estimates the second version will be able to print homes of up to about
2,000 square feet. But to succeed in an American market, Ballard says
3D printing with concrete or other basic building materials has to be more
aesthetically refined. “The American audience who have seen the first
house we printed in Austin, a lot of people love it. We’ve had thousands
of requests,” he explains. “But, a certain segment says, ‘That is not quite
for me yet.’“ Indeed, homes need not just walls and a roof, but layers of
insulation, wiring, and room for air ducts and windows.
Even so, Ballard argues 3D printing is destined to be more than a niche
market. “It’s not just for people’s backyards or the developing world,” he says.
“You can build a shack or you can build a mansion. This is a new paradigm.”
very recently with KnitCandela—a thin, sinous concrete shell built
on ultra-lightweight, 3D-knitted formwork that was carried to Mexico
from Switzerland in a suitcase. Exhibited at the Museo Universitario
Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC), in Mexico City, KnitCandela honors
the concrete shell structures created by Spanish-Mexican architect
and engineer Félix Candela through the use of KnitCrete.
KnitCrete is a custom 3D-knitted, technical textile, the technology
for which is being developed at ETH Zurich by the Block Research
Group, in collaboration with the Chair for Physical Chemistry
of Building Materials, as part of the Swiss National Centre of
Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication. The formworks
are not only easily transportable but they reduce the need
for additional support structures and work to simplify logistics
at construction sites as well.