Cyclist passes 3D printed homes (concept art)

First habitable 3D-printed cement houses set to appear in Dutch city

Image credit: Project Milestone

3D printing experts at Eindhoven University of Technology are working with a construction company to create five pebble-like houses using a giant 3D printer.

The houses are being printed using a nozzle mounted on a large robotic arm, which follows digital designs to create houses layer by layer. A printable cement mixture, which reportedly has the texture of whipped cream, is extruded in thin ribbons. This approach to construction allows for waste to be minimised as no excess cement is poured out, as is the case when using moulds.

The project – which has been named Project Milestone – will involve the printing of five houses in a wood in the Meerhoven district of Eindhoven. The first house will be the simplest – a one-storey house with just its exterior and internal walls created with the 3D printer – with subsequent houses becoming more complex as researchers learn lessons from the previous printing jobs. Some of the houses may have plumbing and other installations fabricated during the printing process.

Concept art of 3D-printed homes

Project Milestone

Image credit: Project Milestone

According to a press statement, the surrounding area is being developed as a “sculpture garden” with “high-quality, ambitious architectural projects placed as sculptures in a continuous landscape”. Far from the plain, boxy shapes you would expect of budget housing, these houses are irregular, exotic shapes with rounded edges like stones, demonstrating the capability of 3D printing to produce almost any shape imaginable.

If 3D-printed houses catch on, it is feasible that new homes could be customised by buyers at minimal extra cost. These homes could also have small wireless sensors, controls or other electronics integrated into their walls during printing, enabling the creation of a “smart home”.

According to construction company Van Wijnen, the project could demonstrate that 3D-printed houses are an inexpensive, customisable, sustainable option which also presents a potential solution to a shortage of bricklayers and other skilled construction workers.

“With this technology, we can do things we couldn’t do before,” commented Professor Theo Salet of Eindhoven University. “For instance, we can create shapes that normally can hardly be made and that if they can be made are only produced in large quantities. But here we can do unique industrial custom-made work.”

“[Also] we only put concrete down […] in places we need it. We use a lot less material, so we’re much more sustainable.”

While 3D-printing technology has been used to fabricate dwellings before, these five houses will be the first habitable 3D-printed homes. They will be rented out by a Dutch real-estate company, with the first occupants set to move in during 2019.

In March, housing developer ICON suggested that residents of slums in El Salvador could soon move into 3D-printed concrete houses fabricated by a mobile printer for less than $4,000 (£3,000) per home.

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