Zero waste, fractional transportation costs and constructed with bio-based, sustainable and recyclable materials - This is the building of the future.
Holly Williams of Bio-Based World News, looks at the fascinating work of Amsterdam’s DUS Architects - the innovators that are fundamentally changing the building industry with inventive 3D print technology.
What is the 3D Print Canal House?
The 3D Print Canal House (@) is a three-year, publicly accessible ‘Research & Design by Doing’ project that brings together an international team of leading industry thinkers. Their common goal is to work collaboratively on 3D printing a full-size canal house, on-site in the city of Amsterdam. It is a beta-preneurial building project aiming to revolutionise the building industry and offer new tailor-made, sustainable housing solutions worldwide.
Project leaders behind this brilliant initiative, DUS architects, are an Amsterdam-based architecture office founded in 2004 by entrepreneurs Hans Vermeulen, Hedwig Heinsman and Martine de Wit, with the aim to build ‘public architecture’. This concept of architecture is one that seeks to influence the public domain using scale 1:1 models, urban processes and strategy designs that range from temporary interiors to long-term urban transformation trajectories that can meet global city-based population growth.
This kind of home-building may seem like something from a lost episode of Star Trek but this futuristic house is made from a range of physical printed elements - each element carefully chosen to showcase the latest research in shape, structure and material. The project shows that architecture can be used as a catalyst for a myriad of cross-sectoral innovations that will characterise how we live in cities and how we build houses across the world.
Why a canal house?
DUS architects emphasise the symbolic value of the canal house to the character of Amsterdam; When the canal belt was built 400 years ago, it established Amsterdam as a leader in innovation. On its banks, the canal house's role was multi-functional; it was the centre of trade, storage, living and craft. These buildings were architecturally unique and ornamentally structured. DUS saw the potential of Amsterdam’s historical relationship with the canal house to explore the implications of this Dutch architype within a 21st century context – As DUS explain; “3D printing a canal house shows the world how to combine traditional local values with new innovative ideas”.
Why Bio-Based 3D Printing?
3D printing is at the forefront of future production techniques, allowing the user to directly translate digital files into a touchable, physical product. In this way, 3D printing has the potential to revolutionise the cost and carbon footprint seen in building materials currently in commercial use. 3D printing is an additive manufacturing technique meaning that the process goes directly from the raw material to the final product, thereby eliminating waste.
Transportation costs are negligible, designs can simply be transferred digitally and printed locally. If 3D printing were to be rolled out across international markets, traditionally cheaper products exported from countries such as China or Bangladesh would quickly be replaced by such cost-effective and locally sourcable 3D printed materials. In this way, DUS architects’ solution also underscores a shift towards grassoots, local economics, something that they themselves acknowledge; “Everyone can just produce everything in their own local context.”
Another advantage of 3D printing over existing building techniques (such as prefabricated concrete) is the fresh possibilities involved in manipulating 3D design's capacity for intricate detail and decoration to produce complex variations from the design stage to product execution. If you have ever needed a dental crown or hearing aid, chances are, it will have been 3D printed and global news is awash with fresh applications of 3D printing for biological tissues and organs for this reason.
Rather than using standardised elements, 3D printed designs can be individually modified and customised to fit the user’s needs and taste. It will no longer be more expensive or more labour intensive to add adroit architectural details, for example to add a façade, 3D printing creates unique objects easily and confidently. DUS found it easy to think of new and inventive applications for 3D print technology to tackle the problem of waste management in the construction industry; “What better way to do this than by 3D printing an entire house?”
The Kamermaker ‘Brain’
The brains behind DUS' technological Leviathan is the Kamermaker print machine. It works in exactly the same way as the Ultimaker [a small desktop 3D printer] but is an up-scaled version. The process starts when a digital design is placed in the ‘brain’ of the printer, a very simple computer, where it is translated into a G-code. [The G-code is a file that slices a 3D model into layers]. This file programs the printer to move along a path that is optimal for that design, moulding the design layer-by-layer, as you can see in DUS' stop motion video below.
The ‘control room’ of the 3D printer is also the material supply, printing with plastic in the form of granulate which enters an extruder via a funnel. Once in the extruder, the granulate is heated (the material melts at 170 degrees Celsius) and pressed together to form a homogeneous liquid. This is brought to the printer head by a heated tube. The printer head extrudes the melted material along the programmed path on the X and Y axes and when finished moves up one step along the Z axis. This process mimics a normal printer process, only with one more direction, which allows objects to be printed layer-by-layer into a 3D product.
The Kamermaker can print with any material that melts and then hardens, the only condition being that the melting temperature isn’t too high, providing this 3D printing technology an infinite range of possibilities and applications.
Bio-Based and Sustainable Materials
Material, construction and design parameters are all closely linked in the overall design & production process of the 3D Print Canal House.
DUS architects are currently experimenting with printing with bio-plastics. The material granulate fed into the Kamermaker is called ‘Macromelt’; it a type of industrial glue (Hotmelt) developed by their partner Henkel. This print material was chosen for the house itself with the aim to develop a renewable, sustainable, strong, tactile and beautiful material that can support the structural integrity of the house.
Henkel's bio-plastic is composed of 80% vegetable oil making it a sustainable resource that is of biological origin and also melts at a relatively low temperature, saving on process carbon emissions. Most importantly, it is as sturdy and stable as traditional building materials. DUS are also researching the possibilities of printing with a range of recycled materials: namely plastics, but also in the future using wooden pallets and natural stone waste.
An example of an eco-concrete façade from the 3D Print Canal House, pictured left, is made up of layers all printed at once, as one element. This means that a 3D printed wall performs both as an interior and exterior façade. This eco-concrete fill, mounts the component elements together trapping air inside the concrete, acting as insulation. The gap between the façades consists of diagonal hollow shafts, some of which are filled with a special lightweight foaming eco-concrete, also developed in partnership with Henkel. The façade design is a web of cross-shapes to minimise concrete use while maximising the strength, weight and stability of the canal house building.
Collaboration and Sharing
DUS architects is collaborating with key thought-leaders across the field; Henkel are developing the innovative, sustainable material for the building while another partner, Heijmans, is researching new construction techniques endemic to the unique challenge of 3D printing a building. The Municipality of Amsterdam is charged with investigating the effect of the digital maker-industries on regulations and opportunities for employment locally.
The project is funded in part by the The Municipality of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Fund for the Arts and the DOEN Foundation, and partially by partner contributions and visitor fees. The 3D Print Canal House prides itself in being “one big collaboration project, in which everybody shares and gets a share”.
See for yourself
The 3D print canal house is more than just a building site - it is an open workplace where an international team can collaborate across disciplines. Anyone can visit this marvel, the canal house is accessible by appointment and offers you an incomparable opportunity to ‘peek behind the scenes’ of a 3D printed house. Pictured left, President Obama visits the 3D Print Canal House.
3D printing is the rising star of the construction and building materials industry. Perhaps what makes the 3D Print Canal House most exciting is the formation of a project that is ‘open’ in every way, encouraging initiators, designers and builders to focus on driving innovation in new kinds of research, experimentation and development processes, instead of simply ‘finishing a house’.
DUS summarise the shared investment in this project; "The goal is to create a cost-effective building technique for building sustainable and comfortable houses”.
The 3D Print Canal House is a pioneering example of 3D printing’s potential. It is the world's first house to be printed on the spot with the world's largest portable 3D printer. Similar projects of this nature are now expected within the next few years and as such the 3D Print Canal House can be seen as the starting gun for a grassroots revolution for tailor-made, diversified, low-cost and sustainable building practices.
By bringing the building process back into the city from remote warehouses and international shipments, the 3D Print House is challenging public perceptions of urban spaces while driving a truly sustainable and local initative to build the homes of the future .
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