John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
It supposedly could crank out a two-bedroom home in 24 hours.
Sure, 3-D printing has produced a five-story Chinese apartment building and is creating a bridge in Amsterdam. But one juggernaut of a machine was using similar tech to crank out entire houses seven decades ago, to believe a quirky item in Mechanix Illustrated.
A short story in the magazine’s June 1946 issue, dug up by weird-history collector Modern Mechanix, shows a huge contraption being conveyed by what looks like half a monster truck. Its operator would move it to the building site, then lower its mold over a pre-constructed house frame and start dumping in concrete. According to the article:
Houses While You Wait are the product of this giant house-building machine, which erects a two-bedroom concrete home in 24 hours. After the giant machine is wheeled into the desired location, its great box-like mold is lowered into position over a previously constructed framework. Concrete is then poured into the top of the mold. When the concrete has hardened, the mold is raised, and there is the house.
Okay, so there’s obviously no software involved, and real 3-D printing shouldn’t need a mold. But it’s a remarkably forward-thinking (if not quite practical) idea for mass-produced housing. You wonder if the machine’s creators were inspired by those other prefab luminaries in the 1930s, who also claimed to whip together a home in a day with already-existing materials: