First Fully 3D Printed Building May Take Shape This Year

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We can 3D print the very small—check out these mindblowing nanoscale creations—but what about the very big?

If a few bold architectural startups have anything to do with it, we may soon see the first 3D printed homes. Three otherworldly plans put forth by Universe Architecture, Softkill Design, and DUS Public Architecture include a concrete mobius strip, a weird cantilevered plastic nest, and a three-story Amsterdam canal house made of recycled bottles and potato starch.

Of these concepts, the Softkill Design presents the most bizarre and darkly futuristic. Protohouse takes its inspiration from the porous strength of bones. The design’s laser sintered bio-plastic is deposited along the structure’s exact lines of force, making it efficient, light, and strong. The 1:33 scale Protohouse 1.0 looks like a wild nest or funnel spider’s web.

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Protohouse 2.0 will be four meters by eight meters and incorporate furniture, stairs, even curtains into the print design. The architects say they’ll print 31 truckbed-sized pieces offsite over three days and snap them together (no welding, no adhesive) onsite in a day. They hope to have their first unit complete this summer.

Meanwhile, Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Universe Architecture wants to print a concrete house shaped like a mobius strip (a 3D geometric shape with no beginning or end).

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Ruijssenaars will use the world’s biggest additive printer, the D-shape, to print framed sections into which they will pour concrete and fiberglass. As Gilles Retsin of rival, Softkill Design, points out, it’s not a fully 3D printed house. But it is a cool concept and may be finished in 18 months—or as soon as the firm can line up a buyer for the $5.3 million structure.

Finally, there’s DUS Public Architecture. The Dutch design firm will use a mobile large-scale Kamermaker 3D printer to print and assemble an Amsterdam canal house piece-by-piece onsite. DUS hopes to begin printing the first room in the next six months and finish the full house in the next few years.

More than bring a finished product to market, the team’s aim is to experiment with and provide a stage for the technology. Each room will use different material—from recycled plastic bottles to potato starch.

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These designs are very cool. The question is, will they really be finished anytime soon? As we’ve seen, 3D printing large-scale objects like buildings is full of unexpected challenges.

Last summer, we wrote about Behrokh Khoshnevis, a USC engineering professor, and his 20-hour 3D printed concrete homes. Over a decade in the making and after a few rounds of wide media coverage, Dr. Khoshnevis’s proprietary carbon fiber cement mixture and large printers seem to be stuck building walls between five and six feet tall.

Since we last covered Khoshnevis’s “contour crafting,” the site got an upgrade and a new video (see below), but plans to print a full-scale house remain largely conceptual.

Back then we speculated house printing needed an ambitious startup—or better yet several—for 3D printed buildings to really take off. Ask and ye shall receive.

The most striking thing about these startups is their diversity in design, method, materials, and time-frame. And instead of shooting for the moon—literally—the projects seem more rooted in current 3D printing capabilities, whether that means printing with plastic offsite instead of concrete onsite or setting expectations at three years instead of 20 hours.

3D printing may soon make the leap to full scale architecture—and whenever it happens, we can’t wait to see the designs.

Image Credit: Softkill Design, Universal Architecture, DUS Public Architecture

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 6 Responses

  • Brian Korsedal April 4, 2013 on 11:23 am

    We’re going to be the first ones to print out a house.

    • Vector Brian Korsedal April 4, 2013 on 6:24 pm

      Your organization’s goal sounds highly geo-beneficial and lucrative. You must never give up on this idea. It could be one of the many iconoclastic innovations to change the Earth for the better — if you maintain its viability and availability. I hope you succeed.

      If you succeed, whatever you do, do not allow anyone to own more of the company than yourself and others that you trust. The responsibility of human stewardship is always primarily upon those in positions of power and influence, and being able to live with an untarnished conscience is better than anything money can buy.

      • Brian Korsedal Vector May 8, 2013 on 10:49 am

        We think so too!
        To be honest, what will most likely happen if we are successful is that some billion dollar company will try to copy us and use the corrupt U.S. legal system to screw us out of what is rightfully ours. If that happens, we plan to back up and kick em as hard as we can, right in the profits. We plan to open source the tech eventually. We just need to be profitable enough to sustain the R&D efforts. Then when the singularity starts to take off, we’ll open source it.

        We’re doing a kickstarter project this week (once verifies my bank account). Any support you can offer would be amazing. Like us on Facebook and tell all your friends. It’s surprisingly hard to get the word out about this technology. We’ve invented a better mouse trap, but no one seems to really care. :/

  • dobermanmacleod April 4, 2013 on 9:46 pm

    We need to analyze the Martian soil and build a 3D printer that can utilize it as a toner, preferably with the ability to make more 3D printers from it, leading to exponential manufacturing on Mars. Furthermore, using LENR we can utilize nuclear transmutation to allow a full range of elements from the limited ones found in the Martian soil (–NAZWtkt6w&bvm=bv.44770516,d.b2I ).

  • Ivan Malagurski April 5, 2013 on 10:09 am

    Cool 🙂
    sign me up for one 🙂

  • Recovering_Human April 6, 2013 on 5:48 pm

    Wikihouse isn’t quite 3D printing, but I hope they make progress as well.