In 2049, there will be 9.7 billion humans. Everyone has the right to a roof over their heads, but the housing shortage is worldwide. By observing the mason wasp, the Italian 3D printing company WASP has developed an eco-friendly solution. Founder of WASP, Massimo Moretti explains the construction process of Tecla, an ecological earthen house, thanks to a 3D printing system.
Like the mason wasp, you’re building a sustainable, eco-friendly earthen house, but is it as simple as it sounds?
3D printing technology allows for a different approach to construction. Tecla is an earthen house. And thanks to its shape, the earth has been made load-bearing. We have pushed the technical possibilities of a humble material like earth to the extreme. This form demonstrates the maximum limits we have managed to reach with technology.
Does this type of construction impose limits on the desires of architects?
The limits are linked to those of the earth. The architect must first of all work with the material. And consequently with technology. He must therefore know it and adapt it to the materials. With the earth, we cannot imagine building skyscrapers. But we will make lower constructions, with wider walls, in dimensions and shapes that allow for better thermal insulation. We will be able to make very big walls because the earth costs almost nothing and it is present on site.
Can we live in this house as in a conventional house?
In all respects, it is a comfortable house. We observe a very good air quality, a constant hygrometry and temperature. This is due to the large mass of the walls which creates a thermal insulation of about 12 hours. So the average temperature is constant during the day and as the humidity is absorbed by the clay, this results in a constant average hygrometry.
How does the 3D printer work?
The best approach is the oldest way to build: the crane. It’s no coincidence that our printer is called “Crane”. It is the classic construction crane on which we have made modifications with an innovative approach to make it extremely precise. We can place the required amount of material with gram and millimeter precision. Paradoxically, there is nothing complicated about it, we have only reproduced with the precision that modern technology allows us, what already existed in antiquity. The most innovative thing is that this crane can dialogue and communicate with other cranes.
How long does it take to build one of these houses?
That depends of course on when we build the walls. Depending on the type of soil, the humidity, the temperature, the quality of the air, printing a house takes between one day and one month.
Does this technique allow you to build in series?
The main strength of digital manufacturing is that all the research content can be transferred easily because it is reproducible with a click. Whereas a good site team requires a lifetime of experience that is then passed on from one site manager to the next and it takes decades to have this transfer of knowledge, conversely, with digital fabrication, all the knowledge is contained in a single file. So it’s particularly suited to mass production: we can transfer all that knowledge to any other place in the world. We just need to be equipped with the same machines, even without specialized manpower.
What is the cost of such a construction?
The cost of 3D printing is already competitive. It will be even more competitive in the future as the means will be increasingly optimized and faster. But the main impact is more on the form than on the cost. Today, the most innovative thing about 3D printing is the possibility to build in free forms. There is no longer a need for scaffolding, expensive control systems or material support. Architecture is pushed to explore completely new forms.