Can 3-D printing help solve the developing world’s housing problems?
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In impoverished nations such as El Salvador, many families lack safe and affordable housing. International charities that try to construct small homes in those countries often run up against the problem that traditional building techniques can’t meet the housing need quickly or inexpensively enough.
Austin-based nonprofit New Story hopes it can solve this problem with the help of a 3-D printer. The organization says its printing technique could potentially build a house for $3,500.
New Story unveiled its single-level, 650-square-foot printed house in March at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. The house, built from extruded concrete using a Vulcan 3-D printer developed by partner Icon, takes two workers only 12 to 24 hours to construct, according to tech website The Verge. New Story plans to move the printer to El Salvador next year to begin constructing a test community of about 100 such homes.
The printed house features a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and curved porch. It currently costs around $10,000 to build, but New Story believes it can bring the cost down to as little as $3,500. The organization also believes the printed homes will be of higher quality than conventionally built counterparts.
“There are fundamental problems with conventional stick-building that 3-D printing solves, besides affordability,” Jason Ballard, co-founder of Icon, told Fast Company. “You get a high thermal mass, thermal envelope, which makes it far more energy-efficient. It’s far more resilient.”
The Vulcan printer, built for easy transport by truck, sits on a set of tracks and extrudes concrete material in layers to build up the floor and walls according to a computer model of the house. The printer is capable of building homes as large as 800 square feet complete with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
Constructing large structures such as houses using 3-D printing techniques is not without problems, though. Some previous projects have fallen behind schedule because of equipment failures, and the drying time of the concrete may present a problem. Often lower layers haven’t fully dried before upper layers are laid, which can result in buckling. Engineers are working on equations that would take into account curing times so walls don’t collapse during construction.
Still, if all goes well next year with the test community in El Salvador, New Story plans to make the technology available to others interested in providing printed housing.
Pods in the city
A design studio in New York City is proposing a unique solution to urban homelessness that taps one of the city’s major resources: the sidewalls of buildings.
Framlab’s “Homed” project envisions a vertical honeycomb of 3-D printed, hexagonal pods stacked and affixed to the surface of an empty exterior building wall. The pods, accessible via staircases built into a scaffold structure, would provide living spaces that offer “privacy, safety, individuality, [and] self-esteem,” according to the project’s website.
Each single-occupancy unit would have space for a small bed, a chair, and individual storage. The modules would be lockable, ventilated, and insulated to provide year-round shelter.
The Homed project seeks to address the decline of single-room occupancy housing units in New York City since the 1970s. The city can only house up to 60,000 homeless in shelters each night and has proposed building 300,000 new low-income housing units by 2026, according to Architectural Digest. Framlab sees the Homed project as an intermediate step to provide a “sequential reduction of the shelter population.” —M.C.
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