Though still a relatively new technology, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, shows great promise. It seems capable of transforming not just the construction industry, but the concept of buildings as we know them.
How this technology works is almost deceptively simple: A computer-generated design is sent to the printer, which then slices the design into layers. Those layers are then created in the real world, one by one, as the printer draws from a reservoir of material and extrudes it.
Architectural-scale 3D printers are creating inhabitable structures using materials from sand to concrete. The selection of materials is especially beneficial for buildings located in geographies with unforgiving terrains, such as extreme dryness or humidity.
Construction and engineering firms around the world are experimenting with the technology at an exceedingly greater scale. Today, several high-profile, fully inhabitable 3D structures are either already open for business or slated for grand openings this year. With its ability to quickly erect inhabitable structures of just about any shape, all while reducing wasted material, 3D printing has been hailed as a potential solution to a number of global housing issues and can be used to create safe, inexpensive shelters for inhabitants of disaster zones.
Here are five 3D printed structures in operation today that offer a glimpse into the future of what the technology is capable of.
1. Government Agency Building in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Apis Cor, a Boston-based 3D printing equipment manufacturer, recently completed what it claims to be the world’s largest 3D printed building. The two-story administrative office building will house a government agency in Dubai; it was printed using a single car-sized mobile printer in just 21 days. The new office building stands 31 feet tall and has an area of nearly 7,000 square feet. The shell of the building was 3D printed while other elements, including the roof, insulation, and windows, were completed using traditional building methods, according to Construction Dive.
2. The Ramdani Family’s 3D Printed French Home
Located in the French city of Nantes is the first 3D printed home to be inhabited by a family. The 1,022 square-foot house has four rooms and is meant to accommodate the Ramdani couple and their three children. According to Sclupteo, it took approximately two days to print, and construction costs were approximately 176,000 euro (~$195,000 USD)—nearly 20 percent less than a home in the area built using conventional methods. The project was a team effort, with scientists, architects and manufacturers on board, led by the University of Nantes and printed by BatiPrint3D.
3. A Luxury Hotel in Mozambique Opening in 2020
The southeastern African country of Mozambique, renowned for its white-sand beaches and more than 1,500 miles of picturesque coastline, is about to open the world’s first 3D printed luxury hotel. Created using 3D printed sand, the hotel was built with sustainability in mind, designer Nina Flohr noted. The 12 guest rooms are adorned with elements like thatched roofs and carpeting created by local artisans, and the entire hotel is designed to fit in with the characteristics of existing native architecture. Once open, a one-night stay will run $8,124, including a personal chef, dedicated staff, marine activities, spa access and use of personal electric vehicles.
4. A 3D Printed Villa in Manila, The Philippines
The Lewis Grand Hotel in The Philippines is expanding to include something new: A sprawling 1,400 square-foot villa made entirely of 3D printed concrete. Billed as the world’s first-ever 3D printed hotel room, the villa includes two bedrooms, a full living room, and a jacuzzi room complete with 3D printed spa, Forbes writes. The structure took approximately 100 hours to complete, including extra time to install internal components like wiring and plumbing. The Philippines could stand to benefit from more low-income housing, and the project lead told 3DPrint.com they are already looking to repurpose the printer that has been used to create the villa to produce private homes, with the goal to create 2,000 homes within two years.
5. DFAB House in Zurich, Switzerland
The science and technology university ETH Zurich located in Zurich, Switzerland, has created DFAB House, a complex that allows researchers to develop and test the latest innovations in 3D printing, robotics, and automation. Designed in collaboration with a host of research and science partners and more than 30 companies, the 2,150 square-foot DFAB House was planned digitally and created with the help of robots and 3D printers. The structure, which tested the limits of both 3D printing and robotics, is considered the ultimate model for the future of smart homes and additive manufacturing.