Machine-Made Living: Creating the First 3D-Printed House

Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars wonders: “Can a building be as continuous as the landscape?”

The idea to create an entire house in one long Möbius strip using a 3-D printer wasn’t inspired by architecture, but evoked by a landscape. The Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars, founder of Universe Architecture, took part in a competition for a beautiful site along the Irish coast. “We wanted to make a building that has the same uninterrupted flow as the landscape, that never starts and never stops,” Ruijssenaars says. He wondered, “Can a building be as continuous as the landscape?”

He didn’t win the competition, but he was gripped by the idea of a never-ending house. On the table in his studio in Amsterdam, there are various models of the structure, in lead and in paper, “but they are always strips that you stick together at the ends. If we really wanted one continuous surface we realized it could only come from the 3-D printer.” The first small model (made from potato starch) was a triumph: “The floor becomes the roof becomes the floor.” As one source of inspiration, Ruijssenaars cites SANAA’s building with the rolling floors for Rolex in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The only connection between the floor and the roof in Ruijssenaars’s design is the steel rods that act like trusses to provide stiffness and stability. The facade would be made of glass and steel. There are steps connecting the two layers, but with a small gap—they don’t compromise the continuous flow of the strip, which is simultaneously floor and then roof.

Ruijssenaars collaborated on the so-called Landscape House with the artist and mathematician Rinus Roelofs to perfect the design in Rhino, and will enlist the Italian inventor Enrico Dini to print it. Dini is the mastermind behind D-Shape, one of the world’s largest 3-D printers. According to Dini’s website, the machine uses thin layers of sand and an inorganic binder, adding, “This is similar to what an ink-jet printer does on a sheet of paper.”

If constructed as envisioned, the 10,800-square-foot house would consist of ten roughly 20-by-30-foot pieces. “You print them from the top to the bottom,” the architect explains. “The facade of glass and steel provides the structural support.” Fiber-reinforced concrete is injected into the hollow floors of the 3-D pieces to further strengthen the structure.

Since Ruijssenaars went public with the scheme, a race has commenced to become the builder of the world’s “first” 3-D printed house (a definition that’s open to some interpretation by construction experts). In the meantime, Ruijssenaars hopes to build his house on a site in Brazil in 2014.

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