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Mario Cucinella designs a giant 3D printed wasp’s nest of a house

This is probably the most interesting 3D printed house concept we have seen yet.

Regular readers will know that I am skeptical about 3D printed housing, suggesting that it is a solution looking for a problem, and that “The problem in housing has never been technological; it is economic and social, whether you are in San Francisco or El Salvador.” Commenters have called this “a stupidly conservative view” and perhaps it is.

Two of my complaints were that 1) most of the 3D printers used concrete goop and we are trying to get away from concrete, and 2) with a few exceptions, they could just do walls, really just a small part of a completed house, so why bother?

Living space in the TECLA house© Mario Cucinella Architects

Now Mario Cucinella Architects addresses these concerns, with TECLA, a housing system built using WASP, short for World's Advanced Saving Project. It is technology “inspired by the potter wasp, WASP builds houses with natural materials, at a cost tending to zero.” The Crane WASP is “an innovative technology to print on site eco-districts at low environmental impact.” In an era where so many people are moving to cities and living at high density, Mario Cucinella writes that “the idea of the city must be challenged.”

bedroom at night© Bedroom at night

Since 2012, WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) have been developing viable construction processes based on the principles of circular economy, that will create 3D printed houses in the shortest period of time, and in the most sustainable way possible. TECLA will be the first habitat to be built using multiple collaborative 3D printers, offering a greater scope of scale than ever before. Used in the context of a wider masterplan, TECLA has the potential to become the basis for brand new autonomous eco-cities that are off the current grid.

Printed habitat© Mario Cucinella Architects

Judging from the renderings, these eco-cities will be relatively low density and agricultural. Whether this scales, and whether it is a good idea, is another story altogether. But let's look at the house and the system:

TECLA houes plan© Mario Cucinella Architects

Designed by MC A and engineered and built by WASP, TECLA will be the first house to be entirely 3D printed using locally sourced clay – a biodegradable and recyclable ‘km 0 natural’ material which will effectively make the building zero-waste. It will be built to adapt to multiple environments, and it will be suitable for self-production through the use of WASP’s innovative Maker Economy Starter Kit. This approach will limit industrial waste and offer a unique sustainable model that will boost the national and local economy, improving the wellbeing of communities. Furthermore, the scheme will significantly accelerate the construction process as the 3D printer will produce the entire structure at once.

3D printed wall section© 3D printed wall section/ WASP

Of course there is more to an entire structure than just the walls; there are electrical, plumbing and ventilation that are not yet 3D printed along with the house. However there certainly are enough voids in the walls here to put them all.

printed earth wall© Printed earth wall/ WASP

The goop the printer squirts is made by Mapei, a giant international company making adhesives, sealants and chemical products, “which has studied the clay materials and identified the key components within the raw earth mixture to create the final highly optimised printable product.” The goop also has some insulating value from the addition of rice cultivation waste into the mix.

Dome made out of 3D printed pieces© Domes are made out of 3D printed sections/ WASP

The problem of the roof is solved by making the building a dome, which lets the walls and the roof be made with the same technology. The dome is built in pieces, so there is really no limit to the size of the building. However it also limits the use of the technology to one floor.

The project came out of the SOS or the School for Sustainability that Cucinella runs in Bologna. He writes that “Architecture and urban design are called upon to provide appropriate responses in harmony with the environment and the cultural context. However, there is a clear disconnection between aspirations and outcomes when it comes to sustainability.” And goodness knows we need design leaders of the Post-Carbon Era.

Others are not so sure that this TECLA project has much to do with sustainability at all. As I have noted, I worry about the low density, the focus on structure alone, and the elimination of jobs for people who could be digging up that clay and building cob houses for themselves.

But it is probably the most interesting 3D printed house concept we have seen yet.