Hot off the printer: a 13-room home


A woman touches the wallls of a canal house which was printed with a 3D printer in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, March 13, 2014. Dutch architecture firm Dus has embarked on a project to build a 21st-century version of a classic Amsterdam canal house, printing it out piece by piece with an oversized 3-D printer, and then slotting them together like oversized Lego blocks. The goal is to discover and share the potential uses of 3-D printing in construction by creating new materials, trying out designs and testing building techniques. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

One day you might be able to print your dream house. Architects in Amsterdam are already trying. They are using a giant 3D printer to build 13-room traditional Dutch canal house.

“Individual rooms and design elements could be remixed and reordered by non-architects, allowing people to design their own ideal home and then hire a printing contractor to build it. And the rooms themselves can ‘fairly easy be disconnected’ to move the house,” the Verge said.

It takes a week of printing successive layers of material to create just one of the massive honeycomb blocks the builders will fit together like Legos to make the house, the Associated Press reported.  Each block has the interior printed on one side and exterior on the other, with space in the middle for wiring and pipes. The walls will eventually be filled in with concrete for insulation and reinforcement, the Verge explained.

The three-year project conceived by Dus Architects aims to test building techniques and explore the potential for 3D printing in construction.

“The building industry is one of the most polluting and inefficient industries out there,” Hedwig Heinsman of Dus Architects told the Guardian. “With 3D-printing, there is zero waste, reduced transportation costs, and everything can be melted down and recycled. This could revolutionise how we make our cities.”

But the revolution is a ways off. “We’re still perfecting the technology,” Heinsman said.

Construction started a few weeks ago and already more than 2,000 people have already dropped by the work site to check on its progress, including President Barack Obama.

“We called [the printer] the room maker, but it’s also a conversation maker.” says Heinsman told the Guardian.

Indeed, there is no shortage of conversation about 3D printing. And for good reason, the novel technology – where successive layers of material are printed to form a solid 3D object – has been used to patch human skulls, create prosthetic limbs, even to replace someone’s face after a motorcycle accident.

More than a medical miracle, 3D printing is a trend showing up everywhere from fashion runways to cafes. Cafés in Tokyo, Taipei and most recently Barcelona offer customers 3D printing services along with a cup of coffee. For between $11 and $40 bucks customers at FabCafe Barcelona can create their own designs (think jewelry and toys) on a laptop, or even a cell phone, and have them printed in 3D while they finish their lattes.

People are betting money that 3D printing is more than just a fad. HP, a major player in 2D printing, has said it will enter the 3D printer market this year. In 2012, President Obama awarded $30 million in federal dollars to a consortium of rust-belt manufacturing firms, schools and non-profits public-private effort as part of join public-private sector effort to develop 3D printing technology.

But the Wall Street Journal cautioned investors against falling for the hype. “These are early days for 3D printing, it is common for companies in new fields to have high valuations justified by expectations that such companies will grow into their valuations. The issue with 3D is that the earnings models of many of the popular gurus are just plain wrong.”

 

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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