Property Weekly on Printed Homes

PWThe 3D-printed office will be completed next year l Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

It’s cost-effective, timesaving and doesn’t take a break. The 3D-printing technology has arrived and it could revolutionise the construction industry in ways that were never seen before. Reports already suggest that 3D printing could bring down labour costs by 50-80 per cent and reduce construction waste by 30-60 per cent. Furthermore, construction time could be reduced to just weeks instead of several months or years.

Dubai is making a big stake in the industry by building the world’s first 3D-printed office. While 3Dprinted structures have already been built in the Netherlands and China, including town houses, villas and small apartment buildings, the Dubai project is a first in many ways. According to its builders, it is not only the structure that will be 3D-printed, but everything in it, including interior finishes and furniture. The technology will use various materials such as special reinforced concrete, glass fibre-reinforced gypsum and fibre-reinforced plastic. A 6m-tall 3D printer will construct the building layer by layer and additional assembly will take place on-site.

The building will house the headquarters of the Museum of the Future, which is planned to host futuristic inventions and prototypes and new solutions. Set to open next year in Downtown Dubai, the museum will itself be partially 3D-printed. With more than 185 sq m of office space, the property can accommodate up to 16 people.

“This project reflects the vision of our leadership here in Dubai,” said Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and Chairman of the National Innovation Committee during the kick-off of the project last year. “This building will be a testimony to the efficiency and creativity of 3D-printing technology, which we believe will play a major role in reshaping the construction and design sectors. We aim to take advantage of this growth by becoming a global hub for innovation and 3Dprinting. This is the first step of many more to come.”

There is wide scope for future applications of 3Dprinted technology, says Gergawi. “We are keen to use the latest technologies to simplify people’s lives and to serve them better. This project is part of our overall innovation strategy to create new designs and new solutions in education, health care and cities,” The National Innovation Committee is cooperating with WinSun Global, the Dubai subsidiary of pioneering Chinese company Yingchuang Building Technique (WinSun), which specialises in building houses using 3D printers. The company is joining engineering and design firms such as Gensler, Thornton Thomasetti and Syska Hennessy for the project.

In 2014 WinSun attracted global attention when it presented ten 3D-printed houses measuring 200 sq m each in Shanghai. Each costing less than $5,000 (Dh18,365) to produce, the houses are made of concrete and are built layer by layer using a gigantic 3D printer. A few months later, WinSun started to construct the highest 3D-printed building, a five-storey residential house, and after that the world’s first 3D-printed villas for clients in Taiwan, boasting 1,100 sq m of living space and delivered complete with internal and external 3Dprinted decorations.

“We have developed unique techniques for our 3D-printing process,” says Ma Yihe, WinSun’s CEO, adding that the company is using a special mix of a 3D-printing substance, which is a combination of recycled construction waste, glass fibre, steel, cement and special additives.

“This process, therefore, has environmental advantages and also reduces the risk for construction workers of coming into contact with hazardous materials.”

Another partner for the Dubai project is Thornton Tomasetti, a US-based structural engineering consulting firm. Thornton Tomasetti was part of a consortium with WinSun, US-based design and architecture firm Gensler and engineering firm Syska Hennessy Group that create the 3D-printed buildings in Shanghai.

For Thornton Tomasetti, this is more than just showcasing innovation. “We have made great strides, but this is only the beginning of what is possible,” says Kylie Krall, Senior Principal at Thornton Tomasetti and the firm’s UAE director. “We can potentially combine 3D-printing technology with both emerging materials and existing materials used in new ways, to take our industry in a fresh direction.

“And printing is already moving from the research and development labs to the field. We are collaborating on multiple projects to print sustainable, affordable housing in the Middle East, Africa and Haiti, and we are looking ahead to how codes and construction law will affect the advent of 3D printing in the architecture, engineering and construction industry.”

The 3D-printing technology could indeed be a game changer for housing projects in the Middle East. The Saudi Arabian market seems to have great potential because 3D printing provides an attractive solution to construction companies that wish to extend projects to remote areas where demand for affordable housing is high, but traditional construction techniques prove challenging.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, a hospitality company has used 3D-printing technology to build the first 3D-printed hotel suite. The two-bedroom villa suite, part of Lewis Grand Hotel in Angeles City, Philippines, and described as “the first legally sanctioned and operational commercial structure in the world created using 3D-printing technology”, took some 100 hours to be built. Hotel owner Lewis Yakich says he will use the technology to build around 2,000 affordable homes in the next two years. He has reportedly been approved to bid in the government’s low-income housing programme and plans to initially build around 200 low-income houses.

WinSun is already committed to undertake similar government projects in the Middle East. According to Ma, the Egyptian government has signed a deal for 20,000 single-storey dwellings in the desert. WinSun will provide the printer and process to make “ink” from sand and other materials. The houses will be printed on-site. At the centre of these activities is Dubai-based Winsun Global.

What has captured the attention of architects, humanitarian aid agencies and governments looking for alternative housing solutions was the fact that WinSun’s 150m-long 3D printer is able to print ten affordable single-storey houses in just 24 hours. To speed things up further, Ma plans to build factories for such massive 3D printers across the Middle East, namely in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Morocco and Tunisia.

3D timeline

The technology that powers today’s 3Dprinting machines took root sometime in the early 80s in a small lab that Chuck Hull played around with after work. In 1983, Hull made a breakthrough with an invention that would revolutionise the manufacturing industry and — three decades onwards — the construction industry as well. Hull called his invention stereolithography, or more commonly known as 3D printing.

In 2009, taking the 3D technique a step further, Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California started research on using 3D technology for construction of structures, and in 2010 announced that he had created a giant 3D printer that can build a house in 24 hours. Khoshnevis called the technology contour crafting, which uses large, mobile 3D printers that can construct buildings layer by layer on-site.

Other printers
In the past few years, others have also announced their own methods of printing houses. In the Netherlands, the firm DUS Architects unveiled a 3D-printed house using what it called the Kamer-Maker machine. In 2014, the Chinese firm WinSun claimed to have built 10 homes in one day using a 3D-printing technology it had developed. It has also built 3D-printed villas and the tallest 3Dprinted residential building rising five storeys.

Last year, the UAE National Innovation Committee announced a partnership with WinSun to build the world’s first 3D-printed office building. While 3D-printing technology is gaining ground, some experts say it might still take some time before it is widely adopted as other relatively new building methods such as prefabricated construction are already quite efficient and cost effective.

Source: Arno Maierbrugger, Special to Property WeeklyPW


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