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10 Jul 2015

Are 3D Printed Houses the Future?

True innovations in the building industry are relatively rare. While architecture slowly changes over the years and building materials come in and out of fashion, there is little to differentiate the buildings of today from those of yesteryear. All of that could be about to change, however, with 3D printed houses about to emerge onto the global market. As architects around the world race to build the first commercial 3D printed house, let’s take a look at why this new technology could shake up the entire building industry.

3D printing offers unparalleled advantages in terms of architectural flexibility and construction times, not to mention costs. Earlier this year in China, a company named WinSun Decoration Design Engineering built ten 3D printed houses in a single day, with each house costing just $US5000 to manufacture. While these houses were admittedly very simple, consisting of just one room, this project achieved what it set out to by capturing the attention of the world.

WinSun have also built a five-storey building, the world’s tallest 3D construction, and a 3D printed mansion for the total cost of $US161,000. WinSun build their constructions using a combination of concrete and recycled materials, with four huge 3D printers used to pipe layers of materials on top of one another. Because everything can be assembled on-site, costs are kept down and construction time is dramatically reduced.

The Chinese aren't the only ones involved with the 3D building revolution, with a team of architects in Amsterdam just starting to manufacture the 3D Print Canal House. While this project prides itself on using eco-friendly, bio-based materials, “The main goal, I think, is really to deliver custom-made architecture.” says Hedwig Heinsman, co-founder of DUS architects, the team behind the project. President Obama visited the site this year, as excitement builds surrounding the implications of this project.

According to Dr Hank Haeusler, senior architecture lecturer at the University of NSW, 3D printing is definitely on its way: “I think it is definitely going to happen... I think in five to 10 years we will see more and more 3D printed housing construction and nodes." However, Dr Haeusler says the obvious economic advantages of 3D housing will only come into play with mass production: “At the moment it wouldn’t make a contribution to affordable housing because technology has not got to the stage yet where it could be used for mass commercial production.”

While lower costs and faster construction times have been grabbing the headlines, architects are getting even more excited about the unparalleled flexibility that 3D building provides. According to Dr Haeusler, "I think for the bog standard Australian suburban house, I wouldn’t see any point in 3D printing because you can easily go and buy design components such as bricks easily from stores such as Bunnings. But if you want to design and build a house like the Opera House where you couldn't' get the components, then 3D printing becomes an advantage.”