3D Printers Broke Ground on a House

The first bricks of a 3D-printed canal house have been laid in Amsterdam.

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Mar 7 2014, 2:30pm

The first bricks of a canal house in Amsterdam have been printed, bringing the world a step closer to 3D-printed buildings. We’ve seen plans for a wide range of printed architecture, from ornate algorithmically-designed rooms to moon habitats that look like the Teletubbies set, but Dutch architects DUS are taking things full-scale with a life-size, habitable canal house.

Whether theirs will actually lay claim to the title of “first 3D-printed house” is yet to be seen; I guess you probably have to wait for the whole structure to be built before making that claim, and the architects don't plan to finish for another three years.

This week, however, the building site—which doubles as a sort of research facility and public museum—went into operation and churned out the first building block, which looks pleasingly like a giant Lego brick.

Image: DUS Architects

The components of the house are fashioned by a custom-made, six-metre-tall printer called the KamerMaker (“room builder” in Dutch). Housed in a shipping container, it’s basically a really large version of a desktop 3D printer, though its size does raise a fundamental question about future 3D printing techniques: Is it really that efficient to build one really big thing—a printer—in order to build another really big thing? 

It prints components with dimensions up to 2.2m x 2.2m x 3.5m, and part of the work is funded by a modest entrance fee paid by visitors who want to see it in action.

On their project page, the architects explain that each room is printed separately on site and then tested for safety before being assembled. “Each printed room consists of several parts, which are joined together as large Lego-like blocks,” they write. 

As you can see from the top image, the blocks aren’t completely solid, but contain internal “folded” structures for support. This also creates a rather ornamental facade, and leaves space for utilities like pipes and wires to be threaded through the walls. 

Image: DUS Architects

They’ll be refining materials and techniques as they go along, emphasising the main point of this build as an ongoing research project. From the exterior, the house will get more intricate as more floors are added; it’s being built from the bottom up, so the first floor will be quite basic and newer techniques will be incorporated into the higher levels as the project goes on, ending with the typically ornate gable of a traditional Dutch canal house. 

ARN reports that a three-metre-tall block currently takes about a week to complete, something that the makers hope to get down to a few days.

In fact, the first block, which has been on show this week, probably won’t make it into the finished building because it had a few flaws in it where the print was a little uneven—a complaint the wider 3D printing community can no doubt relate to all too well.