Imagine if you could build a house in as little as a day, with almost no construction crew.
The 3D printer is poised to make that happen.
Architects, artists, designers and scientists are figuring out ways to use the budding technology to make building homes faster, easier and cheaper. While none of the prominent 3D projects are fully finished, some are starting to rise off the ground, layer by layer.
The process works similar to any other 3D printer, only instead of a printer roughly the size of a microwave, it's the size of a building.
The homes are first designed using 3D modeling software, which uses a code to tell the printer where to move when printing the object's layers. It is capable of taking into account gaps for things such as windows, plumbing, insulation and electrical wiring.
Then, a variety of materials -- from plastics to concrete to recycled construction materials -- are heated until they become liquids, then printed out layer after layer, to form the structure, as well as various other parts. The parts are put together, along with more common construction elements such as windows and doors, to make a completed building.
A few drawbacks exist, namely that these are new structures and so they are untested as far as structural integrity goes. There are still questions surrounding things such as material health, fireproofing, wind loads, foundations, insulation and longevity.
Click on to see five very different 3D-printed home projects that are piquing interest around the world.
A printed Chinese village
Shanghai WinSun Decoration Design and Engineering Co recently unveiled 10 3D-printed structures in Quingpu District, a suburb of Shanghai, that were printed in a mere 24 hours. The structures are built from construction waste consisting of cement and glass fiber, which is lighter yet five times as hard as common construction material, CEO Ma Yihe told China's CNTV (representatives were not available to comment for this story).
Made in a day for less than $5,000
Each structure is about 2,000 square feet and costs a little less than $5,000 to print. So far the designs are incredibly simple, but with more time, Ma expects to build bigger and better designs. Besides aesthetics, the other drawback lies in structural security. These homes are so new, their structural integrity remains untested outside of a lab. Some professors at a nearby university have raised questions about the health issues surrounding breathing in glass fiber, according to CNTV.
A canal house in Amsterdam
The 3D Print Canal House in Amsterdam has largely been dubbed the first 3D-printed house in the world. Although it is not yet a house, it has garnered enough attention to catch the eye of President Barack Obama, who visited developers DUS Architects earlier this year. The home is being built right now on site, and will be a public space.
The canal house prototype
The canal house is being printed using the KamerMaker (or room maker in English), a large moveable 3D printer developed for the canal house, and raw materials that are largely made from vegetable oil. The company is still eying the possibility of incorporating recycled plastics as a material.
A room in the canal house
The front of the canal house will have a customized block texture -- a unique advantage of 3D printing, DUS said -- and will contain 13 different rooms that will be assembled, room by room, over the course of the next three years, according to Tosja Backer, expo manager of the 3D Print Canal House.
An infinite home in the Netherlands
The Landscape House, also coming to life near Amsterdam, is a continuous structure, roughly shaped like an infinity symbol, that effectively has no beginning or end, according to its creator Janjaap Ruijssenaars of Universal Architecture. The curved structure is meant to blend into the landscape around it.
Though the project has yet to break ground, a building team is being assembled to get it started, said Universal Architecture's Sarah Rhodes. It will be printed with the D-Shape printer, a 3D printer that uses rock and sand to create its structures.
A scaled model in California
Contour Crafting is a technique that could lead to the world's very first 3D-printed home construction company. Founded by University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, the company developed a massive 3D printing robot that could build entire homes on site in about a day with minimal construction waste.
A home built by robots
Workers would lay down two rails for the robot to operate on. From overhead, the robot would lay down the cement structure, and from there, workers would take over again to add the finishing touches such as windows and doors. The concept is still being tested for full-scale home building, Khoshnevis said.
An artistic interpretation
Romanian-American artist Ioan Florea built what he calls the first U.S. 3D printed home, though like the homes in China, it's hard to really call it a home as it's not really inhabitable yet. Unlike WinSun's designs though, Florea's isn't necessarily meant for the average family to call home, it's more of an artistic statement, he said. He was first inspired by seeing his neighbors in Romania create their own bricks out of clay to build their homes, he said. He uses a combination of a large, industrial 3D printer at German printer manufacturer Voxeljet and his own personal printer to assemble the 200-square-foot structure.
He has also decorated it with his own spider web-like designs and coated the plastic prototypes with a liquid metal, seen on this washing machine. The home relies on wood beams for structural support, as the design had to make the trip from his home in Shelbyville, Ill., to New York City.