The phrase "building with earth" conjures up images of getting one's hands into mud, creating habitable forms of cob, adobe, earth-bricks or perhaps rammed earth or earthbags, or even an earthship. But the next generation of earth buildings may not be formed by hand, rather, they may someday be printed by machine.
Based out of Italy and recently debuting their latest development -- a 3D printer that squirts out mud -- at Rome's Maker Faire, WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) may be the future of housing in many parts of the world where earth is the most abundant, and affordable, local building material around. The aim is to ease the labour-intensive process that building with earth requires, with an automated, digital fabrication process, using one of humanity's oldest building materials.
WASP director Massimo Moretti was inspired on the path of printing mud houses by the mud dauber, a small wasp which builds its habitat using only mud. Later, Moretti was exposed to the idea of bio-architecture, and his concern with the growing global housing shortage gave rise to this intriguing project.
Since two years ago, WASP has been steadily working toward the goal of building full-scale buildings. Striving to tackle the world's affordable housing crisis, WASP's objective is to commercially offer a full-sized, three-armed, 6-metre (20-foot) tall, portable 3D printer which can be hauled on-site by truck, and assembled in two hours, ready to print structures up to 3 metres (10 feet) tall, with a mix of mud, clay and fibre as a binder. The earth is first sifted into a powder, water is added and then the concoction is fed into the 3D printer, where it is then extruded out layer by layer to form a structure. For the purposes of demonstration at Maker Faire though, a smaller, 4-metre (13-foot) Delta 3D printer was used.
Currently, it still takes a couple of weeks to print a house, but WASP's 3D mud printer has some advantages: it can be quickly deployed and used in remote rural areas; it uses an abundant and hyper-local material and it can be easily assembled with two people in two hours with the help of ratcheting straps. The printer could also be a way for local builders to express native styles of building. WASP offers 3D printers for ceramic too, and there are plans to build a full-sized house in Sardinia this year, using locally available wool as the fibre binder. You can check out more over at WASP.