Photo: Kamp C & Jasmien Smets
Over the last few years, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been gaining popularity in construction and architecture. As the technology matured, it’s position changed from a curiosity to a viable tool of the building trade, with companies producing and selling 3D-printed structures around the world.
In construction technology, additive manufacturing is still considered an emerging technology. Still, it’s already shown great promise for its ability to slash budgets and shorten building times. Some printers are even capable of creating an entire structure from scratch in less than a day and at a fraction of the cost of conventional construction methods.
3D printing is also considered a very real potential solution to humanitarian issues like the global housing crisis. In parts of the world where a roof over your head is far from a guarantee, the ability to quickly and inexpensively produce a livable structure has enormous potential, like this entire 50-home 3D-printed community in Mexico.
The following six 3D-printed structures showcase what can be accomplished with this technology and might offer a glimpse of the global housing landscape in the years ahead.
WinSun’s 3D-Printed Apartment Block, Jiangsu Province, China
Chinese company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co. is no stranger to testing the limits of 3D printing. Having already built 10 3D-printed houses in under 24 hours, it quickly gained the distinction of building the world’s tallest 3D-printed structure, a 5-story apartment block it completed back in 2015.
According to ArchDaily, the apartment building was made using a 20-feet tall, 33-feet wide, and 132-feet long 3D printer. Ir brought the structure to life layer by layer using a mixture of glass fiber, steel, cement, hardening agents, and recycled construction waste. The individual building sections were then pieced together, much like any other modular construction project. At the same time, WinSun built an 1,100 square-meter mansion, fully decorated inside and out. ArchDaily writes that a Taiwanese real estate company ordered 10 of the prototype mansions. Each will cost about $160,000 to build.
At the time, Ma Rongquan, China Construction No. 8 Engineering Bureau’s chief engineer, said in a news conference that he hoped the projects would pave the way towards more unified standards around 3D-printed construction.
“These two houses are in full compliance with the relevant national standards. It is safe, reliable, and features a good integration of architecture and decoration. But as there is no specific national standard for 3D printing architecture, we need to revise and improve such a standard for the future,” he said.
Municipal Building, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Not to be outdone, Dubai opened the world’s largest 3D printed building in early 2020, a 6,900 square-foot administrative building for the Dubai Municipality. Dubai has long been known to aim for the impossible when it comes to construction. After all, it’s already the home of Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, which towers over the desert landscape at over half a mile high.
For the municipal building project, Dubai collaborated with Boston-based Apis Cor, the company known for building a 3D printed house in Russia in under 24 hours, according to SingularityHub. The building’s structure is much like a conventional building, made of precast concrete and reinforced with rebar and concrete. Contractors were brought in to add touches like windows and a roof after the structure came together.
Dubai has grand plans for 3D printing technology. It’s aiming to create as much as one-quarter of all new buildings using the method by 2030. SingularityHub writes that it’s part of the government’s plan to reduce building costs and save time on construction projects.
Two-Story Detached House, Beckum, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
Builder PERI GmbH and designer MENSE-KORTE ingenieure+architekten collaborated on the first-ever 3D printed house in Germany, a two-story building with approximately 860 square feet of livable space per floor, according to ArchDaily.
The project uses a special 3D printer called BOD2, pioneered by Danish manufacturer COBOD. The machine allows the addition of pipes and other internal building components, even while the printing is underway. It can print up to 10 square-feet of double-skin wall in just 5 minutes, ArchDaily writes, and only needs to be calibrated once before getting to work on each section.
“The concrete printing process affords us, designers, a high degree of freedom when we are designing buildings. With conventional construction methods, this would only be possible at a great financial cost. With our printed residential building in Beckum, we are demonstrating the potential of the construction printing process,” said Waldemar Korte, partner MENSE-KORTE ingenieure+architekten.
3D-Printed Office Building, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Before Dubai became the home of the world’s largest 3D printed building, it had already been known for the world’s first 3D-printed office building. According to Architect Magazine, the 2,600 square-foot office complex houses the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF) headquarters. Each building is made of individual concrete components, which were printed in Shanghai and shipped to Dubai for placement. To complete the job, Dubai enlisted the help of WinSun’s enormous 3D printer, measuring 120-feet long, 40-feet wide, and 20-feet high.
According to Architect Magazine, the firm said the combination of 3D printing and modular assembly reduced labor costs by 50%–80% and construction waste by 30%–60%. The building, which first opened for business in the summer of 2016, was designed by Gensler for the United Arab Emirates National Committee.
“This paves the way for a future where 3D printing can help resolve pressing environmental and urbanization issues, and it allows us to deliver highly customized spaces for our clients in a much shorter time frame,” Gensler principal Richard Hammond told Architect Magazine in a statement.
3D-Printed House Prototype, Antwerp, Belgium
This past summer, Kamp C erected a 3D-printed two-story house in Belgium, according to New Atlas. The house is just shy of 1,000 square feet and was made using the same COBOD BOD2 printing technology as the detached house in Germany. The printer measures 32 by 32 feet and extrudes a cement-like mixture in individual layers until the structure is complete. After it was done, human contractors added windows and other essential elements.
This project took around three weeks to complete, but Kamp C told New Atlas it would reduce the building time to under two days. The building includes an entrance hall, two conference rooms, and a kitchen and is outfitted with modern amenities, including heated floors, solar panels, and a heat pump.
Project manager Marijke Aerts told New Atlas that 3D printing technology for the project saved approximately 60% on time, budget, and materials.
14Trees’ Affordable, Sustainable Buildings, Malawi, Africa
Affordable housing isn’t a given in many places. 14Trees, a joint venture between CDC Group and cement producer LafargeHolcim, is looking to improve residents’ quality of life by increasing the availability of affordable homes and school buildings around Africa.
Starting in Malawi, 14Trees has begun producing its sustainable and affordable structures, once again using COBOD’s BOD2 3D printer, according to 3D Printing Media Network. The printer’s enormous size requires two human operators, so COBOD sent experts to Malawi to ensure local workers’ proper training.
“We are very encouraged by the fact that 14Trees now has brought our technology to beneficial use in Africa, and we are impressed by the speed they manage to achieve for the printing of the walls of the first buildings, COBOD Founder and General Manager Henrik Lund-Nielsen told 3D Printing Media Network.
“The shortage of affordable housing and schools in Africa is overwhelming, and we do believe that our technology can play a vital role in solving this, not at least by increasing the speed of execution.”