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The Aesthetics of Automation: Examining the Appearance of 3D Printed Affordable Housing

The Aesthetics of Automation: Examining the Appearance of 3D Printed Affordable Housing

The viability of 3D Printing in architecture – has, at the very least – seen a seismic shift over the past few years. Usually relegated to prototypes or conceptual models, 3D Printed building designs are increasingly being actualised as physical projects. In 2013, WinSun, a Chinese company – was able to print 10 houses in a 24-hour period, becoming one of the first companies to achieve this feat using 3D Printing technology. More recently, in 2018, a family in France became the first in the world to live in a 3D Printed house. The city of Dubai is also seeking to have a quarter of its buildings be 3D Printed by 2025. These examples display the upwards category of this technology, and how it is very likely, as the years go by, this automation of building fabrication is even more integrated into the construction process than it is right now.

One area that 3D Printing is being touted to address is that of affordable housing. Shorter long-term costs, the speedy printing of walls, and a lower margin of error have been identified as advantages of 3D Printed buildings, advantages that are key to creating truly affordable housing that does not compromise on good design.

Affordable housing has too often, however, suffered from an image problem. Allison Arieff, Director of Communications at enterprise data platform company REPLICA, wrote about a housing complex near her home in San Francisco. An affordable housing complex that she describes as featuring drab colours and a “soul-sapping” aesthetics approach. 3D Printed affordable housing must not repeat these mistakes – and not sacrifice good aesthetic design for gains made in the reduction of costs or speed of construction.


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ICON and New Story 3D Printed Home in Texas. Image Courtesy of ICON and New Story
ICON and New Story 3D Printed Home in Texas. Image Courtesy of ICON and New Story

The encouraging thing is that in the 3D Printed affordable housing schemes that have recently cropped up, there is a reassuring consideration of aesthetic harmony that goes into the design. Construction technology company ICON and non-profit New Story revealed in 2019 their designs for two homes in the Southern Mexican city of Tabasco, a project for families living below the poverty line that will later become a community of 50 dwellings.

ICON and New Story Affordable Housing - Tabasco, Mexico. Image © Joshua Perez
ICON and New Story Affordable Housing - Tabasco, Mexico. Image © Joshua Perez
ICON 3D Printed Welcome Center Community First Village -Austin TX- Sept2019.. Image Courtesy of ICON
ICON 3D Printed Welcome Center Community First Village -Austin TX- Sept2019.. Image Courtesy of ICON

The resulting design is far from what one would stereotypically expect of homes made using 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing. Far from being boring, slab forms with little personality or architectural flair, the designs – which featured the input of designer  Yves Béhar – are genuinely homely and delightful spaces. 

ICON and New Story Affordable Housing - Tabasco, Mexico. Image © Joshua Perez
ICON and New Story Affordable Housing - Tabasco, Mexico. Image © Joshua Perez

A local concrete mix is what the homes are printed out of, giving its surfaces a textured, off-white appearance. A cement pad is able to function as a patio, and breeze blocks above the windows allow for ventilation – yet also act as a decorative element for the facades. The printing technology used is a “Vulcron II” printer, specifically designed for the challenges of printing in rural areas with limited resources. It is an answer to questions that may have arisen on how 3D printing can be meaningfully utilised in differing, challenging, contexts – yet still have aesthetically pleasing designs.

The Vulcan II Printer Prints A Home On Top of A Cement Pad. Image © Joshua Perez
The Vulcan II Printer Prints A Home On Top of A Cement Pad. Image © Joshua Perez

The debate on architectural aesthetics is a tricky field to navigate. Ultimately, however, the direction that 3D printed affordable housing needs to go in is one that creates housing that is not homogenous and is aesthetically appealing. There are numerous examples to draw from who are in the realm of traditional construction. The sensitive work of Peter Barber’s council homes in the UK for example, is an excellent model of how council housing does not need to compromise on good design. As additive manufacturing increases in popularity as a building tool, affordable housing should in no way have to compromise on the aesthetics of its design in order to take full advantage of what is an extremely useful technological innovation.

This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Automation in Architecture. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.

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Cite: Matthew Maganga. "The Aesthetics of Automation: Examining the Appearance of 3D Printed Affordable Housing" 12 Jun 2021. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/962946/the-aesthetics-of-automation-examining-the-appearance-of-3d-printed-affordable-housing> ISSN 0719-8884
ICON 3D Printed Welcome Center Community First Village -Austin TX- Sept2019.. Image © Regan Morton Photography

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