Can 3D Printing Reshape Residential Architecture as We Know It?
By 2025, Dubai plans for a fourth of its buildings to be printed in 3D construction methods, demonstrating the potential of a fast-growing technology capable of redefining and pushing the limits of traditional architecture. As the technique emerges as a viable solution in the construction, engineering, and architecture areas, its popularity is quickly increasing. In fact, just between 2021 and 2028, the global 3D construction market is expected to grow by 91%, according to a July 2021 report by Grand View Research. Why this rapid growth? Besides being a faster alternative and having lower construction costs, it can also provide affordable housing solutions and allow countless design possibilities, among many other benefits. Thus, as architects must adapt to a new technological era, where speed and efficiency have become key factors in design and execution processes, the rise of 3D printing shows enormous promise. It could even help reshape construction as we know it.
Design flexibility and reduced construction time
3D construction printing is a new technology that shapes concrete without the use of formwork, meaning prefabricated parts and entire walls can be printed in any form in a time and cost-effective manner. Essentially, three-dimensional shapes are created through a computer-controlled process, transforming the traditional building process and allowing a variety of design opportunities. In contrast to other conventional methods, architects can easily develop individual structures with unprecedented surfaces, shapes, and colors for creative, innovative and eye-catching buildings – the first and only of their kind. Practically any organic shape is possible: curved or straight walls, smooth or rough surfaces, flat or angled. There are truly no limits for expressing architectural creativity.
Apart from such design freedom, the printing process itself is also particularly efficient. Not only does it offer a high-degree of planning reliability from the start, but it also has a high printing speed and requires a low coordination effort, thus reducing construction costs. For example, PERI AG can now easily build an entire single-family house (otherwise built with brick or wood in months or years) in just 25 hours of pure printing time thanks to the new technique. This opens the possibility of architecturally innovative buildings that can come to life in less time – and with no extra costs – compared to conventional methods.
How does 3D printing work?
Even though the 3D construction printing technology is currently at an early stage, PERI, one of the world’s leading suppliers of formwork and scaffold systems, has been heavily involved in the market for several years now. Together with Danish company COBOD, the German family-owned company has been working to refine the technology and open up to new markets. The focus is primarily on residential construction, but also includes production of individual prefabricated components.
PERI uses a machine known as the COBOD BOD2, a fully developed and safe 3D construction printer that can be configured in any direction for a wide range of applications, whether it be walls, columns, stairs, or other building elements. Each COBOD BOD2 offers numerous advantages, such as a portal system suitable for off-site production and in-situ application, eliminating the need for frequent relocation and calibration. At the same time, the system comprises a number of modules which can be chosen to fit specific projects.
The printer, however, particularly stands out because of its speed compared to other machines. Besides being the fastest construction printer on the market with a maximum speed of 1m/s, it has been certified in a way that it is possible to carry out work within the printing area while printing is in progress. Therefore, all sorts of manual work, such as pipe installation, can be easily integrated and thus optimize the building process.
Just last year, the first sale of a 3D construction printer evidenced its success. In an effort to manufacture a great range of prefabricated concrete elements and minimize planning restrictions, German company Röser GmbH placed an order with PERI as an innovative long-term investment.
Even though ceilings, floor slabs, and foundations are constructed in a traditional manner, the BOD2 has proven it can successfully produce concrete walls. After the printer is transported to the construction site, the Z-axes are installed, the print head is attached to the X-axis of the steel structure, and a commercially available silo and concrete pump are connected to the BOD2. With the assembly complete, the printing process operates in three dimensions along the 3 axes on a secured metallic frame.
As the printed cavity wall meets the static requirements in residential buildings, no reinforcement is required. In addition, the printed double-skin cavity walls can integrate insulation methods in any way.
Residential buildings: Milestones for 3D construction technology
3D construction technology has experienced an unprecedented milestone: Germany’s first fully-functioning printed house was officially inaugurated and is now market-ready. With printing starting in September of 2020, the two-story detached house, built by PERI and designed by MENSE-KORTE ingenieure+architekten, came through all of the regulatory approval processes and opened this July in Beckum, North Rhine-Westphalia. With 80 sqm of living space per floor, PERI printed the triple-skin cavity walls, which are filled with an insulating compound and consider space for water and electricity related elements. Röser GmbH supplied the attic components as prefabricated parts, which, combined to the on-site printing process, resulted in a homogeneous unit.
The Beckum project was given the German Innovation Award by the German Design Council, an annual award which recognizes projects that present advances in the industry through originality, implementation and effectiveness.
“The three features – digital, dynamic, print-ready – have been implemented in Beckum. With the first 3D printed residential building in Germany, positive pressure is generated in the construction industry: for innovative construction with new technologies, for greater attractiveness in construction professions and for modern architecture with new styles.” – Ina Scharrenbach, Minister for Home, Municipal Affairs, Construction and Equality of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Besides positioning PERI as a pioneer in the market, the success of the one-of-a-kind project proves that 3D construction is viable and opens a whole range of possibilities in the industry. It also set the stage for larger and more complex dwelling units. Precisely two months after work started on the house in Beckum, PERI set out to print the largest printed apartment building in Europe, this time in Wallenhausen, Bavaria. Distributed in 3 floors and 380 sqm, 4 out of 5 units are rented out, while one of them is used as a show apartment. Since then, much of what was initially learned in Beckum has also been incorporated into the first residential project in Tempe, Arizona, an apartment building extension at the Lake of Constance in Germany, and the first 3D-printed building in Austria executed in cooperation with STRABAG SE.
With the last printing project in Austria, the PERI 3D construction printing team has successfully completed five printing projects in one year. All of these are not research projects, but rather real houses that have gone through all the building code approval processes, are rented out and occupied, or in which people work.
As architects around the globe face times of uncertainty, labor and housing shortages, or other industry challenges, only one thing is certain: building and planning as we know it will change fundamentally in many areas. With 3D construction printing as a promising alternative, slow and costly planning adjustments could be a thing of the past. Its increased viability, productivity, and optimization of the building process can not only offer affordable housing solutions and lower rents, but can also provide shelters for disaster-hit regions or an answer to more sustainable construction. Even though there is still a lot of potential to be explored in other markets and segments of the industry, it is clear that 3D construction printing is here to stay.
For more information on 3D printing technology and its real-life applications, check out this link.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: New Practices, proudly presented by PERI. PERI’s Future Products and Technologies’ department researches disruptive technologies that have the potential to change the construction industry fundamentally. The aim is to recognize the signs of the future and to help shape this future. Through a methodical approach, PERI thus expands its core competencies and acts as a clear pioneer on the market. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.