New technology meets old materials in this 3D printed clay house
Using the earth beneath your feet as a building material is one of the oldest techniques in the world, with a few examples dating at least 10,000 years in the Middle East and North Africa. Whether hit, mixed with straw, or compressed into blocks, building with mud is still fairly straightforward, but some of the newer technologies have pushed its evolution considerably, especially with the relatively recent advent of 3D printing.
TECLA, a small house project started a few years ago, as previously covered by Lloyd Alter, editor of Treehugger, is a prime example of this happy marriage between cutting edge technology and old material. It was ultimately printed from locally sourced clay in Massa Lombarda, near Ravenna, Italy, with the aim of showing the possibilities of building affordable homes – and perhaps even entire communities – based on the same low carbon construction approach.
Designed by an Italian company Architects Mario Cucinella (MCA) in collaboration with an Italian 3D printing company WASP (previously), the idea behind the project is to show how a ‘new circular housing model’ could provide solutions to a number of problems, says MCA:
“TECLA responds to the growing climate emergency, the need for sustainable housing and the great global problem of the housing emergency that will have to be addressed.” In particular in the context of urgent crises generated, for example, by major migrations or disasters. ”
Despite some valid criticism of how 3D printing is a technological dressing for primarily socio-economic issues, a lot has nonetheless been said about the overall potential affordability and quick turnaround time of 3D printed homes. TECLA is no exception and even strives to solve some of the problems that other 3D printed projects try to cover up.
For example, instead of being constructed from sticky carbon-intensive concrete like other prototypes, locally sourced mud is used. This earth-based material even has insulating properties, thanks to some rice by-products that have been mixed together.
According to the TECLA team, the structure took around 200 hours to print and consists of 350 layers of clay that were torn from a synchronized set of gigantic 3D printing arms, which have a print area of 538 square feet each.
The exterior of the 650 square foot home features two domed shapes topped with skylights and connected by an arch. The bulbous shape is reminiscent of a wasp’s nest, especially that of the potter wasp, a species known to build nests from mud and regurgitated water.
Inside there are two areas: one is a “living area” which includes the kitchen and the dining area.
Then we have a “night area” which includes the bedroom …
… and also a bathroom.
A number of interior furnishings are 3D printed on-site, creating an always “organic and visually cohesive” look of the design, while improving its long-term durability, the team explains:
“The furniture – partly printed with local earth and integrated into the raw earth structure, and partly designed to be recycled or reused – reflects the philosophy of a circular house model.”
With appropriate modifications, the TECLA prototype can be adapted to different climates, and can even be built by DIY enthusiasts, with the help of WASP Maker Economy Starter Kit. The project hopes to demonstrate that low-waste, climate-friendly architecture can be simple and affordable, the team says:
“TECLA shows that a beautiful, healthy and sustainable house can be built by a machine, giving essential information to the local raw material.”
While it remains to be seen whether 3D printed homes of any kind will appeal to the general public, in any case, it is essential that the possibilities of the approach are made tangible, as has been done wonderfully with this project. .