3D printing is currently rocking the technology world, promising to completely change the nature of manufacturing. The technology is already used in industry to quickly prototype products and parts for everything from cars to NASA rockets. But could it be used for a purpose much closer to home (excuse the pun)? In fact, could it be used to build homes?
Many architects believe this is the future and it might surprise you to learn how much of an impact this technology could have on the way people expatriate if it becomes mainstream.
Printing a house might sound futuristic, but several projects around the world are already working on it. At the beginning of January 2014, scientists in the University of Southern California announced a process called ‘Contour Crafting’, which uses the layering technique deployed by 3D printers to create large scale structures. The team created a giant-scale printer which, they claimed, could build an entire house with an area of 2,500-square-feet in one day.
A few months later, in April, a Chinese company used their 3D printer to prefabricate and assemble parts for 10 homes within 24 hours. The project used components printed using an ‘ink’ made of glass fibres and cement. The machine that printed them took 12 years to develop and cost Winsun New Materials CNY 20 million (£1.91 million at the time).
Meanwhile, a Dutch company is currently over halfway through its project to build a 13-room home, modelled on a traditional Dutch gabled canal house, with the components printed on site. Their large scale KamerMaker printer creates building blocks up to 3.5 metres high from layers of molten plastic containing 75% plant oil and microfibers.
According to Hedwig Heinsman, co-founder of DUS architects, the firm behind the project, ‘the building industry is one of the most polluting and inefficient industries out there. 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.’
The current printed houses are closer to science projects than they are to actual homes, but they are laying the foundations (another unintended pun) for real change in the housebuilding industry. One of the ways in which the technology could change housing markets around the world is by making homes cheaper to build and buy. Obviously, if your dream has always been to live in a traditional French villa, a modern 3D printed home won’t be for you. However, if you don’t have a particular style of property in mind, you could find your budget suddenly stretches a lot further. Becoming an expat could become a lot more affordable for a whole range of people.
And, by using technology such as virtual reality when buying or building property, you could explore your new home from afar, potentially before it’s even constructed.
These homes would also be much more environmentally friendly to produce. The Chinese project mentioned above is aiming to use waste material from other building sites, while the Dutch structure already uses a highly eco-friendly plastic. In the future, entire homes could be built from sustainable materials. They may even be recyclable, although it’s unlikely they’d have a collection point at the supermarket like they do with jam jars.
If these homes become popular across the globe, it would certainly make relocating overseas much easier. Finding a ‘home away from home’ wouldn’t be an issue, as you could just take yours with you. According to Samsung’s SmartThings Report, in 100 years’ time giant drones could transport our homes across the world, allowing you to holiday anywhere without leaving any of your creature comforts. If this is the case, the idea of expatriation as we know it could even cease to be; why pick a single place to settle when you can travel anywhere you like, complete with your home and all your belongings?
That future might be a little way off yet, but if 3D printed homes do become a reality, they would be much more portable. In projects like the Dutch endeavour mentioned above, houses are being produced in sections, so there’s no reason why expats one day might not literally pack up their homes, ship them abroad and reassemble them. It could even prove to be a lot less hassle than buying pre-existing property abroad.
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