Suburban Mansions To Life On Mars: 3D Printed Buildings

Two 3D printed buildings in China

The future is here. You might not guess it from looking at these mediocre buildings, but the revolution has arrived. Imagine being able to construct a building from scratch in a matter of weeks, or as some claim, in a single day.

Last October we ran a series of three posts that investigated advances in three-dimensional computer technology, looking at milling, laser sintering, and 3D printing. Well, the buildings shown above were 3D printed by the Chinese company WinSun.

detail image of 3D printed building structural walls

The process involves creating a 3D computer model which is then sent to the printer. The forms are built up layer by layer. The technology for printing entire buildings is new and so each company has its unique formula for the “printing inks” used. Some employ cement and resin, others salts and resins, still others working with construction and industrial debris ground up and mixed with cement and hardening agents. Over time, these materials may become standardized.

There are many potential advantages to this new technology but one of the exciting ones has to do with the reuse of industrial waste, and the fact that no new waste is created in the making of the structure.

Giant 3D printer, 12m x 12m x 12m

The buildings constructed in China were printed in a factory using an array of printers and then assembled on site but there are large printers that may eventually have the ability to make a building in a single piece on location. (The printer shown above can print up to 36ft x 36ft x 36ft.)

Gensler 3D printed office building in Dubai

If the buildings printed in China look like bad tract homes this 2000 square foot office in Dubai looks like something out of a space age fantasy. The structure, along with all interior surfaces and furniture, was 3D printed. It was constructed in less than a month. Designed by the international architecture firm Gensler, WinSun was involved in the actual fabrication and a 20 foot high, 120 foot long and 40 foot wide printer was employed. Unlike the boxy Chinese buildings which could just as easily have been built with conventional methods, the Dubai building’s curvilinear forms lend themselves to computer technologies.

3D printed building and 3D printed vehicle

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP, 3D printed building powered by 3D printed vehicle developed by ORNL

3D printed Rael house

“Emerging Objects” uses smaller 3D printer farms

There are an infinite number of potential uses for this new technology, from quick and cheap housing for refugees, to mobile operational centers, to extraterrestrial structures. One imagined ink formulation even uses lunar dust. What will our cities look like in the near future and where will they arise?

For those of you who’d like more information about the 3D printing of buildings you may find this wikipedia article useful.

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2 Responses to Suburban Mansions To Life On Mars: 3D Printed Buildings

  1. Michael van Turnhout says:

    Interesting indeed.
    I reside in New Zealand where there are frequent earthquakes.
    Is it envisaged that printing 3D buildings will eventually have the same strength as the traditional construction methods?

    • Michael – I wish I had an answer to your question since I am equally concerned. I live in California and my house is less than 1/4 mile from a fault that is overdue for a very major rupture. On a daily basis I contemplate my crumbling foundation. There are a lot of old unreinforced buildings here and it would be great if this new technology could help.

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