Can 3D printing help providing affordable homes for the base of the pyramid?

Can 3D printing help providing affordable homes for the base of the pyramid?

Urbanisation at unprecedented rates is creating enormous challenges for towns and cities to deal with the influx of people, especially in emerging economies. According to the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs the world population living in urban environments will rise from 3.9 billion in 2014 to 6,3 billion in 2050. This means a rise of roughly 70 million people per year, which is more then a million people per week.

Already a quarter of the urban population, close to a billion people, live in slum like conditions. Moreover, since most of this unprecedented urban growth takes place in emerging economies, which have great difficulties keeping up the formal production modes for affordable and adequate housing, this number is likely to rise.

Solving this growing need for housing is an important motivation for some of the large-scale 3D printing pioneers. For example, Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis with his Contour Crafting method, which builds structures by precise layering of concrete, is aiming to build a house in less then 24 hours, reducing building cost by reduction of building time, material waste and labour. With a comparable technique, WinSun in China already 3D printed concrete houses and an apartment block. They emphasise as well the speed, efficiency and affordability of their system.

With a slightly different take on the challenge at hand, the Italian WASP team has decided to design a giant 3D delta printer capable of printing homes using local clay and natural materials. These should be low cost and have low environmental impact. The most recent of these examples is the Brazilian start-up TriDom, which wants to print high quality low cost urban houses by retrofitting standard cranes into frameless 3D concrete printers. Additionally they will use serious gaming to involve the community in the upgrading process of, for instance, Brazilian favelas.

Let us assume, like Alejandro Aravena in his inspiring TED talk, that the main causes for the inability to cope with rapid urban growth is the combination of the Scale and Speed of the urbanisation and the Scarcity of means. Then, some of the 3D printing pioneers might be on the right track towards finding a solution.

What do you think? Can these kind of 3D printing projects be part of the solution to provide affordable homes for the base of the pyramid?

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