In the architectural world there is constant development of techniques that can make the building process easier, quicker and cheaper, one of these solutions is 3D printing.
Since the 1980s scientists have been developing ways of printing 3D forms. Among these inventions, Charles Hull, an american scientist, created stereolithography. This technique involved building layer upon layer of resin to build up a design created on the computer. An ultraviolet light would harden the resin as it is built up, and make it into a durable 3D structure. Scientists have continued to develop this and now we can use a wide range of materials ranging from plastic to paper.
Not stopping at small scale objects, bigger printers have been created, this has sparked the imagination of many architects.
On a building scale, the basic material of choice for 3D printing is a carbon fibre cement, however there have been ideas to use materials such as recycled plastic bottles, hemp and potato starch, reducing carbon emissions. One major factor of this, apart from being able to create beautiful, intricate structures, is that the amount of waste is minimal. Due to the nature of the formation, there is no need for support structures in the construction period. Pieces can be created separately and snapped together on site. This also minimises the time it takes to construct the structures.
Softkill Design seems to be at the forefront of the 3D printed buildings with their design, Protohouse. Somewhat strange to look at, the design is based on the ports strength of bones and is made up of layers of intertwining fibres, and was designed using algorithms which imitate that of bone growth. As expected from first glance, the walls are permeable, letting rainwater in, and the idea is to waterproof the inside with a transparent membrane rather than the other way round. There is also the option to print off roof panels that can be attached to the main structure. All furnishings are incorporated in building itself. Set to be constructed and completed this summer, the structure consists of 31 separate parts, due to be printed offsite over 3 days and interlocked onsite.
This is certainly an amazing technology with extensive opportunities. If this is developed to create buildings effectively, there are no limits to the design, as it could mean lighter weight structures are possible. However, I wonder, are we being overly optimistic to believe mass housing could be created in the same way? The costs of the printer are extensive, this could lead to only luxury housing to be built, meaning that it wouldn’t really solve the problem of poor housing standards, or emergency structures. Emission reduction os a huge benefit to this technique, so maybe this, along with the hugely reduced wastage of the construction, will outweigh the costs.