How 3D Printing Could Transform Building Design

In the early days of 3D printing, there was much talk of how it would transform the construction industry: how this futuristic new tool would enable skyscrapers to be erected without the need for teams of builders, scaffolding and cranes. “Health and safety” would be a thing of the past, in a tech-utopia where robots did all the heavy lifting.

Yet for all its advocates’ optimism about its potential to construct entire buildings, 3D printing had mostly only been used to produce small-scale objects: architectural models by the likes of Norman Foster, couture shoes by Zaha Hadid, bouncing vases and trendy eyewear by Ron Arad and a hearing aid – albeit one perfectly sculpted to fit the patient’s ear – by Danish medical pioneer Widex. But printing an entire house? Dream on.

So when news broke last month that a Chinese construction firm had “printed” 10 houses in Shanghai in less than a day, there was a sense that the use of 3D printing in architecture had finally come of age. 3D printing technology, which creates solid objects from digital models by laying down successive layers of material to mimic onscreen forms, has been around since the 1980s, when the US engineer Chuck Hall first demonstrated the technology with his company 3D Systems. Still, nothing on the scale of the 10 Shanghai houses had been attempted before. … (Read more)