This month, architects in Amsterdam started work on the world's first completely 3D-printed house. It'll take three years and quite a bit of money to finish. Meanwhile, in Shanghai, a company claims to have printed ten houses with inexpensive industrial scraps in less than a day. What's the difference?
It depends on your definition of 3D printing. Both projects are using massive 3D printers; in Shanghai, it's 490 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 20 feet deep. Rather than expensive plastic, though, the Chinese company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co is printing with a concrete aggregate "made in part from recycled construction waste, industrial waste, and tailings," according to the Architect's Newspaper. Each of these homes costs less than $5,000.
But the biggest difference is that WinSun is printing its houses in pieces, then fully assembling them on site, at least according to 3Ders.org's recent report. In Amsterdam, every single room, detail, and piece of furniture will emerge fully formed. This is why some commenters are likely to argue that WinSun's project isn't truly 3D-printed.
But let's not quibble over syntax here. If these claims are true, WinSun is printing an inexpensive, sturdy home in mere hours for very little money. The company says the process would be perfect for fabricating homes for the impoverished and displaced—a major issue in some Chinese cities. In my eyes, that's far closer to the early dream of architectural 3D printing buildings: To harness rapid prototyping to build housing that's cheap, fast, and in the words of WinSun, "dignified." The concept of spending three years and millions of dollars to print a 13-room home out of plastic, by comparison, feels like nothing more than a gimmick.
According to 3Ders.org, WinSun has plans to build 100 factories in China to "collect and transform" construction waste into aggregate for its machines. Right now, there isn't much more information about the project online, but we've reached out to the company for more information. [A|N Blog; 3Ders.org]