Printed Cities: A new era for housing?

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to have a tour of the facilities in the School of Engineering at the University of Liverpool (don’t ask me how I blagged that one). It was a real treasure trove, and in among the hydrolics lab, flight simulator and student-built racing cars was a 3D printer. This was the first one I’d encountered, and I remember how amazed I was at it printed off a little pyramid shape that fitted into the palm of my hand.

Now, its been reported that the same technology has been used to build a small city. The Chinese company Winsun have just announced that they have 3D-printed ten concrete houses in a day, costing just £3,200 each. Unsurprisingly, the process is incredible to behold:

This type of technology is hugely exciting as it could hold the key to producing good quality, low-cost housing, encourage urban renewal, even be a method of re-building townscapes after a disaster.

In addition, it could also herald an exciting, liberating age in architectural design. Hedwig Heinsman from DUS architects told Wired magazine:

‘We’re not historical architects who like to copy past things..architects are very fascinated by the mere technical opportunities that the machine offers, but we’re fascinated more by the open source democratic idea of these printers. It democratises architecture.’

Could this technology see the end of lifeless, ‘box’ apartment flats which are rapidly filling cities, and allow a form of architectural creativity not as limited by cost?

More than that, does the ‘democratisation’ of architecture mean that any of us who play with cities in the virtual domain can now think about them becoming physical realities too? Individuals creating their own dream cityscapes may not be desirable, but accessible 3d printing technology may eventually give communities more power to take back the urban landscape from local authorities.

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