Housing shortages and overpriced rents - they're issues that affect (and annoy) so many of us, but which are rarely discussed in the mainstream media. Whether Paris, New York, Singapore or Berlin, the situation is similar in almost all major cities of the world. With many metropolises bursting at the seams, living space is becoming subject to speculation and trying to grab an affordable apartment near the city centre can often feel like playing a lottery where the odds are seriously stacked against you.
The antidote frequently prescribed to frustrated citizens is the promise of more social housing, but building new houses is not always so easy, often due to a lack of space and qualified construction workers. And the construction industry also seems to want a piece of the cake too: According to Germany's Federal Statistical Office, prices for the construction of new buildings have risen massively in the last ten years, with those costs being passed onto renters. With this in mind, pilot projects in the Netherlands and France have started testing something that could well bring about a revolution in the construction sector worldwide: fast, cost-effective social housing from 3D printers.
Stylish and energy-efficient: 3D printed houses
In April of this year, the University of Nantes produced the first 3D-printed house that was designed for long-term occupancy. A Batiprint3D printer was used to produce the five-room, 95 square metre building in just 18 days and the project enjoyed the support of the city's housing authority and two construction companies.
In order to keep heating and cooling costs low for the inhabitants of the printed house, it was manufactured in three layers, with the inside and outside walls being made of hardened construction foam. The interior between the layers was then quickly filled with concrete. The foam acts as casing for the concrete and also ensures the building has adequate thermal insulation. This construction method also has the advantage that it gives architects a lot of freedom when it comes to designing the shape of the building. The building Nantes was designed in the shape of a letter Y, for example. A family with priority social housing requirements is set to move in in June 2018, making it probably the first 3D-printed house in the world to actually serve as a home.
3D printed houses are also better for the environment
The Netherlands is also following suit and creating their own 3D printed housing project. Named “Project Milestone”, the endeavour is being spearheaded by the Eindhoven Technical University and construction company Van Wijnen. Their goal is to print five permanently inhabitable houses in the Meerhoven district of Eindhoven over the next few years, with the first houses expected for occupancy in mid-2019. Data and feedback collected from the pilot houses project will also be taken into account when producing further buildings.
Just like in Nantes, the dutch architects are also using the unique abilities of 3D printing to produce houses of unconventional shapes. Eindhoven's 3D printed houses are inspired by boulders and designed to remind onlookers of natural forms - quite fitting, considering the 3D printing method uses considerably less concrete than traditional construction.
This efficiency has additional knock-on environmental benefits. Firstly, the main components of concrete and cement is sand, a commodity that has recently undergone a mining boom due to the growing construction industry. In order to fulfill demand, much of this mining is conducted without concern to the long-term environmental impact of the work. Furthermore, cement production results in an extremely large amount of CO2, with the production of construction materials accounting for between five and eight per cent of total CO2 emissions worldwide – which is up to four times the level of entire nations such as Germany.
We will probably have to wait until the conclusion of the pilot projects to find out whether 3D-printed housing is really the right way to quickly supply the housing market with high-quality, climate friendly houses. In any case, a project which can construct a livable house (with five rooms, no less) in 18 days is a story worth following.
3D printing could not only revolutionise production processes, but also have huge potential in the context of environmental protection and humanitarian aid. Find out how here.
This article is a translation by Mark Newton of the original article by Laura Wagener which first appeared on RESET's German language site.