The Dominion Post ran a full-page advertisement on April 1 promoting an exciting prospect for Wellingtonians seeking a new home: 3D printed housing.
While the spoof was amusingly done, you wouldn’t have been a fool to have believed it. Less than a month on, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua brings news that “10 houses have been built [from] construction waste using a 3D printing technology in 24 hours in Shanghai”.
A news clip from China View offers audiovisual evidence of the giant, 32-metre-long printer layering the materials down like an elaborate cake frosting.
“The 10 standalone, one-storey houses, look normal at first sight,” runs the narration, “but the walls are made up of layers of construction waster and cement, instead of brick and mortar.”
The inventor, Ma Yihe, says the process is safe, environmentally friendly, and full of potential – including the potential to one day build skyscrapers.
He says: “With 3D printing, in the future, we can build good buildings, with reliable materials, and without waste.”
Some, according to the Financial Times’s James Kynge, have questioned whether this qualifies as the first 3D-printed house, given that “it was printed not as a single item but in parts that were then assembled”.
(According the China View clip, moreover, the roof was not printed at all.)
Another enterprise could still hope to win that accolade:
A 3D house under construction in Amsterdam by DUS Architects may therefore have a chance to claim the “world’s first” mantle – but it is not scheduled to be finished until three years’ time.
There is at least one other player in the field.
A US-based inventor calls his 3D printing technology “countour crafting”, the Huffington Post reported earlier this year. He says it will soon be able “to build lunar habitats, laboratories and roads on the Moon or Mars that could eventually house human life”.
We should not be surprised, however, should China have seen the first flowering of 3D printed homes. As Kynge notes at FT.com, “China invented printing several centuries before Gutenberg’s mechanical press in Germany … The world’s first movable type printing technology is credited to Bi Sheng, a Chinese printer between the years 1041 and 1048. While in the West, the invention of movable type mechanical printing is credited to the German, Johannes Gutenberg in 1450.”