New York-based architect Adam Kushner has a dream. Just north of Manhattan's skyscrapers in Gardiner, New York, he plans to build a 3D-printed "estate."
Beyond the modest goal of building a futuristic home, Kushner hopes his effort helps trigger a paradigm shift in the way things, from buildings to underwater structures, are built.
Kushner kicked of the project by tasking Kushner Studios employee Virgina Camilo with researching the current state of 3D printing in the construction sector. Four names continually came up: University of Southern California Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis, creator of Contour Crafting, a 3D printing construction technology; Voxeljet, a manufacturer of industrial 3D printers; DUS Architects, the Dutch firm behind the 3D Print Canal House; and Enrico Dini, an Italian civil engineer who built a 3D printer for printing homes and buildings.
Kushner wrote them all, but only Dini replied. After explaining his interests and fascination with 3D printing a home, Kushner asked Dini how they could collaborate.
The two met this past February after Kushner traveled by train to Washington, DC, to see Dini speak at a conference. Dini put Kushner in touch with his American colleague, James Wolff. Soon after, the three agreed to formalize their partnership by creating D-Shape Enterprises, the American outpost of Dini's Monolite company.
Which brings us to today. Kushner told me the 3D-printed estate will ultimately feature a house, a pool, a cabana/pool house and enclosures, a car port, and a series of shade devices. Initially, D-Shape Enterprises will 3D print calcite, a combination of salt water, sand, and magnesium, which forms a rock-like substance. They plan to transition to a 3D printer that will spit out layers of concrete aggregate, which they are currently developing.
To start, Kushner and his team will build the 3D-printed pool and hot tub. Once finished, they will move on to more complicated structures like the pool house, enclosures, and finally Kushner's house itself. But, why start with the pool?
"The pool is in complete compression, so this printer is perfect for those forces since no rebar or steel needs to be introduced," Kushner explained. "Once we insert gravity loads then we need to insert rebar. That is when we hope to develop the printer to be able to integrate rebar into the concrete castings."
The hope is that after a year of dealing with the pool and enclosures' 3D-printed materials they will be well-acquainted with any hurdles that might arise in the home's construction. Kushner said that the house will be printed in blocks up to 6m x 2m x 2m, then placed together using either water stops (used in joining concrete structures) or solid infill such as glass pieces that will be slotted together for the home.
The team has already set up the construction site's power, and are now launching the pool and carport foundations and formwork where the 3D-printed forms will sit. This process will run into November. Kushner's team plans to take a break in construction over winter, busying themselves with modeling while they await the arrival of the 3D printers in January. Then they plan to experiment as much as possible with the printers.
"The medium will lend itself to unusual textures, screens, and perforations that we would not be able to accomplish in other types of construction, such as precast concrete," Kushner said. "We will print many of the traditional 'add-on' items into the space such as seats, counters, tables, benches, and so."
Since 3D printing a home is terra incognita, Kushner doesn't have a final cost estimate. And given that he is using his own team and labor, which he said should lesson the financial burden, it might not be an accurate gauge of a 3D-printed home's costs anyway. Nevertheless, Kushner is optimistic that his effort will help trigger a shift in how homes are built in the future, and which materials and processes are used to craft them.
"I hope that when this is completed, in some small way, it will show that there can be a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we view architects, contractors and what it means to build," Kushner said.
In Kushner's vision of the future, if he can 3D print a pool, then architects and engineers could use 3D printing processes to build reefs, as well as repair bridges, bulkheads, and other underwater structures. And if he can 3D print a pool house, Kushner believes it's just a "short step to building emergency shelters and low cost housing units." He also sees 3D printing technology working for cleaner, safer, and more economical work sites in the future.
"I see amazing things coming out of this, and it is my hope in a small way that our contributions will add something to a healthier, smarter and more resourceful future for all of us," he said. "And if this piece of machinery makes it happen, and if I am somewhere in the front of the line, all the better."
It's fascinating to see people like Dini and Kushner experimenting with a technology that is currently better suited for small products and avant-garde art projects. But will 3D printing truly revolutionize architecture, engineering, and construction? It seems like a monumental organizational and infrastructural task. For it to happen, the construction industry would have to take up the cause, replacing its tried and true methods with 3D printers and a whole new way of thinking.
Then again, construction has evolved over many millennia, so no one should put it past them.