Fast, affordable, durable, and livable shelters are an essential part of emergency relief and the often protracted transition to stable housing in the years following a disaster.
Traditional construction methods are often slow, expensive, inefficient, and dangerous, the combination of which creates roadblocks in community-based building projects, particularly in low-income areas.
Now a group of engineers is using emerging 3D printing technologies to create housing from the ground up. There has been a lot of speculation and excitement about the possibilities of 3D printing in construction, but many intended uses are based on assembling printed pieces into a larger whole. By scaling up CAD/CAM (computer-aided design / computer-aided manufacturing) processes already used to manufacture virtually every product on our shelves, a new technology dubbed ‘contour crafting’ uses an enlarged 3D printer to create entire buildings without the need for manual assembly. Developers claim this process will dramatically reduce construction costs while decreasing the number of injuries associated with traditional building techniques. The machine is also capable of creating a virtually unlimited number of designs, which will allow neighborhoods to grow organically without the white-washed and homogeneous rows of temporary shelters we see today in relief scenarios.
While the technology is very much in its infancy and is a long way from mass production, it offers an exciting glimpse into the future of emergency housing that goes beyond temporary and often insufficient tents and huts. It is also exciting to see engineers using these new technologies to help those most in need, rather than focusing on the luxurious and designer-created possibilities of livable art. Stay tuned for future developments and, hopefully, some workable prototypes.
For more information on 3D printed buildings in the relief sector, see this article, which includes a fascinating video.