Prototype 3D-printed global habitat for sustainable living

Design Idea, Online Exclusive Feature, Residential, Urban Design / 2021

Prototype 3D-printed global habitat for sustainable living

According to a United Nations report published in 2017, nearly 5 billion people are expected to live in cities by 2030. Governments are faced with substantial challenges related to housing solutions.

Seeking to provide affordable housing, TECLA is a new circular housing model that is created using entirely reusable, recyclable materials taken from the local terrain. It is a prototype for a 3D-printed habitat. The model was named after an imaginary city described by Italo Calvino in The Invisible Cities as a “continuous urban evolution”. 

“Of the building, 80 per cent is biodegradable (the envelope and some internal pieces of furniture), 10 per cent is recyclable and 5 per cent is reusable. The remaining 5 per cent will be sent to the landfill, compared to an almost 100 per cent of traditional buildings,” shared Irene Giglio, architect and project manager at Mario Cucinella Architects.

Tailored resources

“This prototype is also feasible in Asia. In fact, the main feature of the project is that it can actually adapt to any location, both in terms of shape, infill and materials used. For instance, we are currently mixing local soil with waste materials coming from rice processing (rice husks). We know rice is a quite common crop in Asia as well, but we are evaluating plenty of different materials according to local availability,” commented Giglio.

“When it comes to the infill (which is the way the walls are made), its layers can be tailored to local climate conditions, thanks to parametrisations. This could be enhanced ventilation for humid climates, or enhanced self-shading in high solar radiation conditions,” she added.

Eco-housing

Designed by Mario Cucinella Architects (MCA), and engineered and built by WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) (Italy’s pioneering specialists in 3D printing), TECLA is being constructed near Bologna, Italy.

TECLA will be the first house to be entirely 3D-printed using locally sourced clay, a biodegradable and recyclable material that will effectively make the building zero-waste.

This approach will limit industrial waste and offer a distinctive sustainable model that will boost the national and local economy, improving the well-being of communities. Furthermore, the scheme will significantly accelerate the construction process as the 3D printer will produce the entire structure at once.

TECLA was developed using in-depth research undertaken by the School of Sustainability (SOS), a professional school founded by Mario Cucinella that combines education, research and practice. The research, conducted with the support of MA students from the Sustainable Environmental Design programme at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, explored the cause and effects of homelessness. It interrogated the use of technological advances to enable a solution, based on case studies in locations with different climates.

The result is a highly flexible envelope, designed to be resilient to any climate and energy-efficient in a way that traditional housing models are not.

3D-printed houses

Built using Crane WASP, the latest innovation in on-site 3D construction, TECLA represents a step-change in the move towards eco-housing.

Since 2012, WASP has been developing viable construction processes based on the principles of circular economy. It aims to create 3D-printed houses in the shortest period of time, and in the most sustainable way possible.

TECLA will be the first habitat to be built using multiple collaborative 3D printers, offering a greater scope of scale than ever before. Used in the context of a wider master plan, TECLA has the potential to become the basis for brand new autonomous eco-cities that are off the current grid. It will be built to adapt to multiple environments, and will be suitable for self-production through the use of WASP’s innovative Maker Economy Starter Kit.

A collaboration

The collaboration between MCA and WASP has been supported by the following companies:

  • Mapei, a worldwide producer of construction materials: Studied the clay materials and identified the key components within the raw earth mixture to create the final highly optimised printable product.
  • Milan Ingegneria, a Milan-based engineering consultancy: Carried out structural tests and worked on the optimisation of the shape in order to create a self-supporting structure.
  • Capoferri, a company specialised in architectural frames: Engineered and produced the customised and highly-efficient frames.
  • Frassinago, a multidisciplinary company: Curated the landscaping.
  • RiceHouse: Provided technical consultancy about bio-materials deriving from rice cultivation waste (rice husk and straw), which affected the thermal performance and living comfort of the building envelope.
  • Lucifero: Developed the lighting project.

Photos and drawings courtesy of Mario Cucinella Architects and WASP.

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