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The Backstory

3D printers were first conceptualised in the early 1980s. The brainchild of Hideo Kodama, a researcher who used Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute as his medium to publish his account of a functional rapid-prototyping system using photo-polymers. A solid, printed model was built up in layers, each of which corresponded to a cross-sectional slice in the model.
Three years later, in 1984, Charles Hull made 3D-printing history by inventing stereo-lithography. Stereo-lithography lets designers create 3D models using digital data, which can then be used to create a tangible object.
In April 2018, Academics at the University of Nantes unveiled the world’s first habitable 3D printed house which was built using a robot named BatiPrint3D using a specialised insulated polymer. The BatiPrint3D took around 18 days to create the hollow walls, which were then filled with cement. The house consists of 5 rooms and spans an area of around 1000 square feet. Not only is this house sturdy, but it is also Eco-friendly and contains digital controls for differently-abled individuals.

The Process

3D printing houses could change the 3D Printing game altogether. The house was initially designed by a team of expert architects and scientists and was printed layer by layer from the floor up. It was then filled with cement while builders fit in the doors, windows and roof by hand.

The Implications

The building cost of the house totalled an estimated £176,000, which is 20% cheaper than an identical construction with traditional methods. While this house is the first of its kind, researchers are working day in and day out to develop quicker and cheaper ways to 3D print houses.
A non-profit organisation identified as New Story plans on building affordable housing communities in El Salvador and while the current prototype costs around $10,000 to produce, they’ve estimated to lower the costs down to $4000 per unit. With this aim, the organisation plans to help deal with problems related to lack of access to affordable and stable housing.

The Future

Considering how 3D printing has only been commercially available for a few years now and is already being put to such good use, the future seems pretty bright. While 3D printers are still a little difficult to truly understand and a certain level of technical expertise is required to use them to their maximum potential. They’re getting easier to use and more affordable to possess. Although 3D printing robots like the BatiPrint3D are heavy duty industrial level ones and clearly not accessible to the general public, one can use a 3D desktop sized printer to print out a small prototype of the design to pitch the idea to bigger companies and create renders of the final product.
As costs to make 3D printed houses lower, the biggest change would be the positive impact on the environment and the negligible amount – if any at all, of non-biodegradable waste that will be produced. There will be a lower risk of industrial and construction related accidents, a lower chance of human error, lower consumption of waste and although some argue that this would take away the jobs of construction builders, it’s easy to ignore the fact that the technology used is still at a rudimentary level and still requires a little bit of manual labour, besides as cell phones replaced personal assistants and videos replaced radios, every technological advancement has it’s set of casualties. With the demise of radio came the advent of podcasts.
This would also create avenues for skilled workers and technicians who would probably need to keep an eye on the smooth functioning of the machinery and make sure there aren’t any hiccups or malfunctions. The speed at which a 3D-printed house can be built is astounding. A traditionally constructed house usually takes around 6–7 months to be completed.
Architects will never again be restricted to traditional construction practices ever again. The chance to utilise curvilinear structures (curved lines) as opposed to the typical rectilinear (straight lines), implies that the design game has changed altogether. Rather than being bound by rectangular structures because it offers the strongest structural integrity to the building, architects can really experiment with buildings, meaning that owners can have a house that is truly individual. Experts are already investigating its use for constructions in space.

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