Softkill Design joins race to build the first 3D printed house

There should be an X-prize for the first 3D printed house, that perhaps has a couple of rules; the first should be that it actually is a house, "a building for human habitation" that provides shelter from the elements. The second should be that it is actually buildable and gets built before we all get so excited about it. The third might be that 3D printing is actually defined.

This design by London's Softkill Design might meet two of the three criteria. Gilles Retsin of Softkill tells Dezeen that the first prototype might be built by this summer. It is actually very clever in the way that it is built; instead of transporting a giant printer to site, smaller pieces are produced through laser sintering in a shop, and then snapped together.

"You don't need any bolting, screwing, or welding on site," he tells Dezeen. "Imagine a Velcro or button-like connection. The pieces are extremely light, and they just kind of click together so you don't need any other material."

Retsin takes a dig at Janjaap Ruijssenaars Möbius Strip monster house , noting "We actually don't even consider that a 3D printed building because he is 3D printing formwork and then pouring concrete into the form, So it's not that the actual building is 3D printed."

Whether the Protohouse 2.0 is any more plausible as a real house than the Möbius Strip is an open question that will have to wait until it is actually built. Laser sintering is extremely expensive and they have not quite shown how it will actually meet that definition of "a building for human habitation".

Softkill describes Protohouse 2.0 in a press release:

The Protohouse was developed as a research project at the Architectural Association's Design Research Lab, and was supported by Materialise. The project is the first to prototype an entirely 3d printed building, including facade, curtains and finishes. Softkill's main objective is to move away from the heavy, compression based printing of on-site buildings, instead proposing lightweight, high-resolution, optimized structures which, at life scale, are manageable truck-sized pieces that can be printed off site and later assembled on site.

Building upon the previous research, the new Protohouse 2.0 is an entirely 3d printed, one-storey, 4x 8m building. It consists of 7 big chunks of laser-sintered plastic, which can be transported to site in a small van. On site, the chunks are designed for assembly and can be fitted without screws or adhesive material within half a day. The hard building structure of the chunks continuously transitions into 3d printed curtain-like material.

In contrast to existing precedents in 3d printing buildings, which all make use of sand or concrete, Softkill has focused it's research on lightweight materials such as bio-plastics. This generates buildings with a previously unseen level of detail, and opens up the possibility of printing all architectural elements, such as structure, furniture, stairs and facade, in one instance.

Instead of building on-site, where there is always the need of a 3d printer larger than the actual building, Softkill's Protohouse is manufactured off-site in a factory environment with highly precise and fast 3d printers. A consistent tectonic strategy of part-to-whole is embedded in the design process from the very beginning.

To harness the possibilities of high-resolution 3d printing, Softkill Design developed a set of algorithms which, similar to bone growth, are able to distribute material where it is needed most. This results in a materially efficient fibrous structure which is at the same time highly intricate and has an ornamental quality. Using the algorithms, Softkill can design the micro-organisation of the material, up to the scale of 0.7 mm.

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