Can you really 3D print your dream home?

There are many examples of 3D-printed construction around the world: China is home to the first 3D-printed apartment building, and a 3D-printed estate, complete with swimming pool, can be found in New York. Now, Facit Homes is building a 3D-printed home in London’s Highgate. We spoke to managing director Bruce Bell for an insider’s guide to the technology.

How does the technology work? Is it really “3D-printed”?

“People like to use the term [3D printing],” Bell said, but revealed that he tries to avoid it. “But it makes sense in a way, because you’re using a computer… and you’re getting components that are an exact replica of what you see on the screen. Conceptually, it’s the same thing.”

However, the actual production techniques employed to build homes aren’t the same as those used to print everyday 3D objects. Instead, Facit’s architects design the homes in 3D on a computer, and then use those files to build personalised pieces of the housing puzzle, with a computer-controlled blade cutting through wood and other materials to create pieces that are then assembled into the final structure.

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Why is this a better way to build homes than standard techniques?

“These products are so good, because they’ve never been touched by human hands.”

According to Bell, the upside to handing over manufacturing to computers is that they’re more precise than the average human builder – although the end product is still assembled by people. “The thing with homes and construction is it’s done by hand. And as soon as items are made by hand there’s a lot of interpretation… and uncertainty.”

He compared the manufacture of homes to other products, from bikes to cars to iPhones, which are designed on a computer, after which the resulting 3D file is passed to machines that “translate” it into an object. “And that’s why these products are so good, because they’ve never been touched by human hands,” he said.

“So, for our customers, it’s about guaranteeing that they’re going to get what we’ve told them they’re going to get. It’s cutting out the human interpretation you get in the traditional construction process; it’s taking what people see in consumer products and bringing that to the construction industry.”

How do your homes differ from standard-built houses?

“It allows us to do more with less, in terms of design and finance,” Bell told us. “We can spend more time designing it; focus on details and fabricate items that you couldn’t otherwise do using a traditional process.”

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This includes work on the core of a building, dubbed the chassis, to which other pieces are fitted. Items such as lighting fixtures are built in from the ground up, while insulation, electrics and plumbing have their own separate cavities in walls to ensure that workers are confined to only those areas, interfering with the finished product as little as possible.

The interior, too, is designed with 3D precision. “We’ll do staircases, kitchens and canopies; all these items have been digitally designed and digitally manufactured.”

“These tools allow us to be flexible and to achieve what people want – as opposed to a building system that might be limited.”

The house in Highgate features a laser-cut steel staircase and windows that line up with ventilation stacks, while other homes designed by Facit feature built-in under-floor heating, hidden sound systems and underground swimming pools – all impossible in prefabricated homes, or very expensive using traditional methods of construction.

“We can use these digital tools to get something that’s super-tailored and built around people’s lives,” Bell said. “These tools allow us to be flexible and to achieve what people want – as opposed to a building system that might be limited.”

If 3D-printing a home doesn’t sound impressive, what about a robot that can construct a house in 48 hours?

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