In the Times, Will Pavia reported that a small white house which appeared recently in a pleasant neighbourhood of Austin, Texas was built without bricklayers. It was an experiment in ‘house printing’ that is being held up as a model which could replace slums of corrugated iron shacks with in the poorest parts of the world.
The printer was developed by Icon, a firm founded by Jason Ballard, a sustainable housing specialist, with the 3D printing engineer Alex Le Roux and the businessman and venture capitalist Evan Loomis.
The giant 3D printer, an enormous aluminium machine, spat out mortar like grey toothpaste, applying even layers of concrete in precise lines that rose steadily to form the outer and inner walls of a 350 square foot home that met all the local building codes (see the process briefly on this video). The roof is made of wood.
Mr Ballard said that the process required mortar that could flow like ink but was thick enough to form a wall. Like paper printers, their machine suffered from jams; when it rained heavily in Austin, he said, “We had to clean it, like, every eight layers”.
Icon has started working with New Story, a San Francisco charity that builds homes in countries such as Haiti and El Salvador – ‘the non-profit working to create a world where no human being lives in survival mode’. It needed a printer that could work outside and manage interruptions to the power supply.
The printer will be shipped to El Salvador, where New Story hopes to print a few test homes by the end of the year before starting on a larger batch to house an entire community.