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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Building a House with a 3D Printer

March 25th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

We’ve all witnessed the explosive growth of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing over the past several years. The possibilities for AM seem limitless and literally grow by the day, for mechanical design and now architecture. Sure, custom printing iPhone cases and jewelry are one thing, but the capabilities of 3D printing have grown so much, in fact, they’re now as big as a house.

The 3D Print Canal House is an exhibition, research, and building site for 3D Printing Architecture. This is a unique project where an international team of partners collaborates in “research & doing” linking science, design, construction and community, by 3D printing a house at an exposition site in the heart of Amsterdam.

3D Print Canal House

The project is based around a 20-foot-tall 3D printer dubbed the Kamermaker, or “room-builder.” It’s a scaled-up version of the open-source home 3D printer made by Ultimaker.

The project is known simply as the “3D Print Canal House,” and Dutch architectural firm, Dus, commissioned the machine when it decided to take the scale-model rooms it was already 3D-printing for client presentations and transform them into a real architectural structure.

It takes the Kamermaker about a week to print each honeycombed block, layer by layer. The first block that forms one corner of the house and part of a stairway weighed almost 400 pounds.

The 3D print material for the house is being developed by material partner Henkel. The goal is to develop a renewable, sustainable, strong, tactile and beautiful material that can compete with current building materials and techniques.

Right now different material samples for developing the optimal print material are being tested. The base material for the current tests is hotmelt and 80% bio-based.

Once fabricated on the giant 3D printer, the blocks are later filled with a foam material, also still being developed, that will harden to a concrete-like hardness to add additional stabilizing weight and bind the blocks together.

The vision for the future is personalized architecture that could be custom-crafted on a site. A design could also be chosen from an online store for architectural designs, downloaded, and tweaked to personal preferences before custom fabrication.

Dus expects to add more printers and change the design of the Canal House as it evolves, with help from Dutch construction company Heijmans, German chemicals manufacturer Henkel, and anyone else who wants to participate and contribute. A project with a true open-source spirit.

Hedwig Heinsman of Dus says the goal of the demonstration project is not so much to print a functioning house. He says, in fact, parts of the house will likely be built and re-built several times over the course of the three years as the large-scale 3D printing technology develops. In other words, more of a proof of concept than a finalized construction technique.

This is literally a big achievement and one that points to the boundless future of AM and 3D printing. Maybe a new term should be coined — “additive architecture.”

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