At a time when there are housing shortages across the globe and governments are under pressure to reduce carbon emissions in an attempt to prevent further damage to the planet, architects and builders are turning to computer aided design (CAD) and 3D print technology for help.

Eco-friendly 3D printed homes

A few years ago, studies by Michigan Tech University claimed that home 3D print technology uses around 64% less power than more traditional manufacturing processes.

As technology advances, the ability to print out CAD designed component parts for buildings on-site would negate the need for transporting building materials across large distances, cutting CO2 emissions. In addition, traditional building manufacture generates a lot of waste, especially in natural resources such as wood, whereas a 3D printer replicates CAD designs so precisely that waste is kept to a bare minimum. It is now possible to print components in many different materials, including stone, brick, wood and metal, potentially further reducing the need to denude the planet of its natural resources.

The only downside to this idea of eco-friendly CAD designed and 3D printed housing is that some of the raw materials used for 3D printing are not especially eco-friendly. Polyactic acid (PLA), for example, is a form of plastic that is made from renewable corn starch, which is fully recyclable. However, the most popular material is acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), which is stronger than PLA. Although ABS is not eco-friendly, it can be fully recycled.

The ‘Echoviren’

The world’s very first full-size architectural structure was created in 2013 using seven basic 3D desktop printers. It took 10,800 hours and two whole months to complete the 10’ x 10’ x 8’ pavilion, as well as four days for on-site assembly using the snap-together components.

The ‘Echoviren’ , as the structure is called, is made from a plant-based bio-plastic material. The idea is that the whole thing will gradually decompose, before vanishing altogether in 30 to 50 years’ time. Meanwhile, it will provide a habitat for wildlife in the Mendocino County redwood forest in which it is located. The actual texture of the components for the Echoviren is based on the cellular structure of the trees surrounding it. These cells allow the trees maximum strength, whilse requiring minimum volume, and coincidentally this natural pattern also works well with FDM-style printers. The cleverly designed open-topped, igloo-like structure is self-supporting and remarkably stable.

What makes this project fundamentally different from previous architectural pieces is that, according to Echoviren’s architect and designer Bryan Allen, aggregation was employed as the construction system. Most proposed 3D printed architecture projects revolve around using really large scale printers, which is not only extremely expensive, but also incredibly tricky logistically. Using readily available desktop type printers to produce smaller, precisely engineered components would appear to be the way to go for future projects. The process basically adheres to traditional architectural assemblage and construction principles but requires a total rethink of the design method. Effectively, this successful project paves the way for exciting new developments in 3D printed architecture.

The architects responsible for the structure now have their sights set on much bigger projects, including a retail interior and a large scale urban project in San Francisco in the next few years. They want to really push the envelope of what’s now possible utilising 3D printing and to see the transition of this technology from a geeky toy to an industrial tool which will revolutionise the whole construction and design industry.

In conclusion

Eventually, whole cities could be built using 3D printed components in a variety of recycled materials. Landfill sites, natural resource stripping and housing shortages could even be consigned to the history books.

For more information on how CAD technology could be utilised in your architecture or building company, contact us at Restoric Design for more information on our services.

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