July 21, 2015 | By Kira

The technology to 3D print entire homes is on its way, and Australian researchers believe it will bring unique advantages to the housing market, such as affordable housing, on-the-spot emergency shelters, and architectural flexibility—all in the very near future.

The need for safe, affordable housing is greater than ever. According to recent reports, our generation is experiencing the greatest wave of urbanization in world history, with over 800 million people forced to live in slums and an ever-widening housing affordability gap. At this rate, we’re well on our way towards a global housing crisis, with fewer resources and rising labor costs compounding the problem. 3D printed buildings, however, are a realistic and very promising solution.

A robot automates the process of building a house using Contour Crafting technology

Dr. Hank Haesuler, senior architecture lecturer at the University of New South Wales told Australian news that the technology has been around for a while, however it is just a matter of finding the right clients, developers and builders. “I think it is definitely going to happen…I think in five to ten years we will see more and more 3D printed housing construction and nodes,” he said.

For instance, researchers at the RMIT Institute of Technology in Melbourne have already developed a 3D printed structural node that could be used to connect flat concrete walls and other building parts. Meanwhile, over at the University of Southern California, Contour Crafting technology has been in the works for more than 10 years. This is a type of layered fabrication, created by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis, which allows either a single house, or an entire neighborhood to be automatically constructed in a single run. Eventually, Dr. Khoshnevis predicts a one-storey home could be built from foundation to roof within 24 hours, without an ounce of physical manpower required. In addition, we’ve already seen Chinese company WinSun 3D print 10 full houses and the world’s tallest 3D printed apartment building, so the idea of everyday families living in 3D printed homes is really not that far-fetched.

Animation of Contour Crafting in whole house construction

Of course, the technology is still in its experimental stages and presents challenges to the commercial real estate industry. Dr. Khoshnevis warned for example that while 3D printing can build the basic shell of a building, “there is much more than goes into a house.” Entry level 3D printers for large-scale buildings still need extensive testing before can be technology-certified and successfully introduced to the market. And, even when that day comes, it will take quite a bit of time and experimentation to reach the full economic potential of 3D printed homes.

Currently, Dr. Khoshnevis believes that a traditional 3D printed home could be about 10% cheaper than using regular construction methods, while the savings for low income or emergency shelters would be significantly higher. However, Dr. Haeusler thinks it is still too early to see any economic benefits. “I think for the bog standard Australian suburuban 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…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.” The 3D printed housing market would have to wait for either the labor costs to rise, or for enough people to really start using the new technologies.

3D printed mansion

On the other hand, both Dr. Haeusler and Khoshnevis see one unique advantage to 3D printed buildings beyond economic savings: unlimited architectural flexibility. “Time will tell if 3D printing really will be cheaper, but it will definitely be possible to design and build complex shapes,” said Dr. Haeusler. For example, he believes that if Sydney’s famous Opera House were being built today, architect Jorn Utzon would have turned to 3D printing technology in order to create the now iconic, shell-shaped roof.

The non-standard shapes of the Sydney Opera House could have been built with 3D printing today

Whether the main advantage of 3D printed buildings ends up being their speed, cost-effectiveness, the ability to make our wildest architectural dreams a reality, or all of the above, there is no doubt that researchers from China to Australia and beyond are racing to develop the next big breakthrough and bring their technology to the market. We are increasingly surrounded by 3D printed products, whether we realize it or not. Given the exponential speed at which the technology is evolving, and the state of the global housing crisis, it's not to hard to imagine that five to ten years from now 3D printed houses could go from novelty to necessity right before our eyes.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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