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3D Printed Tiny Homes Are a Realistic Option, with a Raw Earth Example Being Highly Sustainable

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In recent years, housing concerns and sustainability issues have both been on the forefront of environmental news. The housing crisis for the underserved homeless communities in the nation is reaching an all-time high. At the same time, we have hundreds of tons of garbage and plastics in the ocean, leading to ‘trash islands.’

What are we going to do? What can we do?

Both of these are excellent questions, and both are being answered by an architecture firm in Italy. Mario Cucinella Architects, a firm based in Bologna, Italy, is challenging the world’s views of both housing and sustainability. It’s doing so by 3D printing homes made from local raw earth, resulting in a clay home.

In Zimbabwe, the firm is helping to re-assess what a city should be. They aren’t doing so by impacting a city specifically, however. Instead, they’re building their own using a proprietary technique called TECLA. TECLA is short for technology and clay; an appropriate descriptor of the houses being made.

Mario Cucinella Architects worked with a 3D printing company by the name of WASP to create a home that was printed using nothing but raw earth materials. The technology that the two companies developed together consisted of a large-scale 3D printer that utilized two printing arms. Working together, the arms printed two 350-layer clay domes. The clay material used rice chaff as insulation, making the project all the more sustainable. 

The homes themselves took inspiration from a number of different sources, both natural and industrious in nature. The overall dome shape, as well as the material usage, was modeled from the way that potter wasps build their own homes. The walls are like a beehive, with open cavities that promote strength and insulation. 

The actual building technique, however, has its roots in the traditional building methods of the Moroccan Kasbah. When the two sources of inspiration come together, you get the TECLA buildings as a result.

Since the buildings use only local raw earth materials, they’re highly sustainable. Building materials are used onsite, eliminating the need to transport materials. For this reason, they are the most sustainable buildings made to date, in a modern sense. Of course, other, antiquated buildings are similarly sustainable, but they aren’t able to be built as efficiently. 

Additionally, not all of the traditional materials for structures like cabins can be considered as sustainable as clay. Lumber takes time to regrow once trees are cut down, and the result is a bare patch in an otherwise wooded area. As long as deforestation isn’t happening on a large scale, cabins are quite sustainable, as well. However, we’ve far exceeded the usability of forests.

TECLA buildings create no waste should the building have to be destroyed. There are no outside materials being used in the buildings themselves, so the huts are able to be torn down entirely without an impact. Should other materials be brought in, like electrical or plumbing, they are the only waste being produced. However, in most cases, the materials are able to be reused or recycled.

The two huts serve different purposes in the grand scheme of things. One is designed for day use, with a large, open skylight and open windows. These allow for a large amount of natural light to enter, eliminating the need for overhead lighting. The second hut is used for night use. There is no skylight, and the window is smaller. This allows the second hut to maintain its insulation overnight, keeping the area warmer.

Moving forward, Mario Cucinella Architects is hoping to craft these 3D printed homes as self-sustaining eco-communities for like-minded individuals. Ideally, they’d be set on the outskirts of major cities and urban areas, offering people an alternative way to live. They’d also be used in developing countries for permanent homes as things continue to develop over time. 

There is both an environmental crisis and housing crisis looming on the horizon, so it’s good to see such innovation being taken to help reduce waste and house other humans. Hopefully, more of these small eco-communities will start populating all over the world.

 

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