Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
A machine that prints house parts from 3D plans for simple human assembly.
We got pretty excited two weeks ago about the prototype of a machine that could print buildings. Now we learn that there's another printer on the case. Feed this CNC (computer numerical control) machine some 3D architectural diagrams, and it will print out the parts. Human assembly is required, but this project has a key advantage over the USC prototype: houses to show for it.
Two firms, London's Facit Homes and Copenhagen's Eentileen, have been circling in on this goal for some time now, and they have collaborated on a new house in the Danish countryside called Villa Asserbo, designed by the Danes and manufactured by the Brits. The technique incorporates design and construction in essentially the same process, and the parts can be put together quickly and easily by hand. Villa Asserbo is one of a handful of homes that Facit has built in this way.
“We create a single, very detailed three-dimensional computer model,” said Bruce Bell, managing director at Facit Homes, “and we use a d-process [d for digital] that converts all that information into cutting information. It unfolds the three-dimensional objects, and lays them out on a sheet so we can go from a very detailed computer model to components that are an exact match. There’s no process of translation.”
In a way, the idea of printing the parts of the house recalls the pre-fab construction techniques used by a designer like Ikea in its furniture, or the Danish toy company Legos. But Bell says the versatility of the digital printing process combines the efficiency and accuracy of industrial production with the bespoke components of site-specific architecture.
“We’re a bunch of industrial designers who have a love for process, for how things are made, how they are produced,” he said. “Really where it comes from is with the digital fabrication techniques, now you have a much less limited palette - you can produce thousands of different components with no additional cost.”
Check out this video of Facit Homes' construction techniques, in miniature:
Top image courtesy of Facit Homes.