Aug. 27, 2014 | Alec

The well-known architect, contractor and New York City native Adam Kushner has started construction on one of the largest and most ambitious projects to ever feature 3D printing. Over the next two years, an entire estate will be built in the small town of Gardiner in Upstate New York, complete with swimming pool, a pool house, a car port and an enclosure. And every single structure, from the pool itself to the 4-bedroom, 2400 square foot home, will be printed by a 3D printer.

Adam Kushner has over 25 years of experience in the construction industry, and is the man behind the successful KUSHNER Studios, an architecture and design firm founded in New York City in 1994. Since then, he has been masterminding the construction of dozens of new and eye-catching structures all over New York City. Because of his architectural successes, both the architect and his creations have received high-profile attention and featured on various shows.

For the past year and a half or so, however, Kushner has switched his attention to 3D printing and the possibilities this technology holds for the construction industry. And since then, he has begun work on a 3D construction project that easily dwarfs any other current attempts to realise inhabitable homes through 3D printing. He explained to how this project came about:

It's been something that I've been scratching my head over for a while. I've owned the property for a few years now and I have been developing a rather deep narrative on how things would be laid out, why they are laid out across the site and how to react to the land. […] The process of building this series of interventions that will eventually become a habitation for my wife and kids is something that interests me greatly.

The concept of using 3d printing as the construction methodology seemed like a natural fit since it coincided with:
1. my opportunity, since we had the property and I was looking for something to build on it.
2. the fact that I was my own client (I have the luxury of time).
3. my growing curiosity and exploration into full scale 3d printing.

All of these (both motive and opportunity) seemed to point to an opportune moment to move forward with this project. However, the pragmatic answer is that we were always going to build a second weekend home in this very well loved spot in the Hudson Valley that I've been going to for the last 30 years.

This ambitious project has already begun, and will be employing Enrico Dini's famous D-shape printer, one of the largest 3D printers in the world. This is a large aluminium gantry structure, which uses CAM software to drive a huge print head during the building process. It can print buildings - at least the most parts of it - on site with much less manpower needed for construction. It deposits sand followed by an inorganic binding material. Excess material acts as a support to the binded structure and when the print is finished the excess material can be removed and reused. This process has low maintenance costs and no water is used since the component parts are 'mixed' when they meet outside of the inkjet nozzles.

Enrico Dini's D-shape printer

In the last few years, Dini's 3D printer has made headway in a number of high profile areas. Dini's printers, for instance, play an important role in developing commercial space travel as they are being used to construct lunar bases made from moon dust. And just this year we reported on how his D-shape 3D printers were being used to create lifelike coral reefs from sand, which are then placed in the seabed to protect the coastal habitats. Kushner explained to us how he and Dini started their collaboration:

Enrico and I got hooked up when a woman from my office, Virginia Camilo, was tasked with going out and discovering all that there was to know about the current state of 3d printing on the construction side. Enrico as well as 3 other names came up. I wrote to all of them and only Enrico wrote me back.

I explained my interests and fascinations and asked how we could work together. We stayed in touch. He put me in touch with his American outpost colleague, mr. James Wolff, my current partner in this venture, and we all got together. Since then, I went to Italy to see first-hand what he was doing there and was satisfied enough to still believe in his direction and where he was going with the machines and process. We agreed to formalize our relationship between all the partners and create D-Shape Enterprises, the American outpost of Monolite, his named company in Europe.

Kushner (right) and an engineer on site

Getting the licences to work on this project was perhaps the easiest part of this project: 'I applied. It was granted'. But while work on the site is progressing, the single D-shape 3D printer and other machines that will be used are only due to arrive in January 2015. 'We are currently finishing up the power and will launch into the foundations and formwork for the pool underpinnings as well as the carport portion. We hope that will commence in September and continue on until November. We take a break over the winter [although we will be busy modelling and tweaking the models] in time so that we can get ready for the machines' arrival in late January.'

Of course, such a project requires careful planning and a strict procedure to be realised. Once the machines arrive, the pool will be the first portion of the estate to be printed. 'Likely the very first piece will be hot tub, before moving on to the shallow end of the pool and ending with the largest and longest pieces.' Once that construction has been finalized, the more complicated structures will follow before finishing the project with the main house itself.

Why choose this order? Easy. The pool is in complete compression making this printer perfect for those forces in question, since no rebar or steel needs to be introduced to the construction. Once we insert gravity loads, then we would also need to insert rebar. At that stage we hope to develop the printer to be able to integrate rebar into the concrete castings as well. […] We hope that after being at it for a year we've learned enough about this construction method to get past some of the hurdles we expect to face, both known and unknown (or the known unknowns as Donald Rumsfeld used to say).

The scale of this immense project also forces Kushner to think carefully about the materials used. He hopes to mainly construct his estate using the very material on which the site is located. The Shawanagunk formation of that region functions excellently as building materials, and its conglomerate will be crushed to make a very suitable and appropriate aggregate. 'The other materials will be sourced from local quarries and yards in the area.' These materials will then be printed into massive blocks up to 5m x 2m x 2m in size. A special dovetail design will allow them to perfectly slot into each other lengthwise and slotted to fit each other with a water stop laterally.

Site plan (click to enlarge)

As the project is still ongoing, many unforeseen difficulties could still arise, but Kushner is ready to tackle these one at a time. 'I assume each part will pose its own challenges and difficulties here. Perhaps the weather could create some problems, since 3D printing has traditionally taken place in a controlled indoor environment, but we are taking it outside in the very four seasons of the Hudson Valley.' Even the scope of the costs and investments is uncertain at this time, but these uncertainties are all part of the experiment:

I wish, as does my wife, to have a clear answer to question of how much this projects cost. But I don't have it. I know what a normal pool and house would cost at this magnitude, but since this just isn't normal I simply just don't know. I'd say I have to pay less than I would in a normal situation because
1. I am a contractor and will build it with my own forces, and
2. the inherent process of using less labour, when labour typically accounts for 40-45% of the total costs of a project, should lessen the 'damage'.
But then take into account all the screw ups, do-overs and other follies not yet reckoned with.

Pool section (click to enlarge)

Despite this uncertainty, Kushner is very optimistic about both this 3D printing project and its implications for the construction industry, going as far as to call it a serious paradigm shift.

We have the ability and the reason, again, motive and opportunity, to head down this path, so we should. The upside is an overall review of what it means to build and even changing the definition of what a builder is. In the same way that photography has radically been altered because 'everyone is a photographer', in the same manner, in our near future, everyone may be an 'architect-builder'. I imagine a situation where a township buys a 3D printer and rents it out to its citizens for day use, monthly use, etc. and allows everyone to build their own additions, pools, etc. It follows that, not everyone SHOULD be builders and the place of the architect and contractor will shift and alter, but it won't go away.

Master site plan (click to enlarge or view here)

Furthermore, Kushner feels fit to place it in a long line of technological advances that have made human existence safer, cleaner and more affordable:

In the urban environment, I see this technology working for cleaner, safer, more economical work sites. There are analogies throughout history and across our globe. The invention of steel replacing wood and masonry led to Chicago and from there to the modern city. The elevator was also such a paradigm shift. I see this technology being in the same pantheon of ground breaking technologies.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications

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