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Tech Spot #14: 3D concrete house, Gardiner, United States

Thursday 30 Jul 2015

Will 3D printing become mainstream?

Tech Spot #14: 3D concrete house by Kushner Studios in Gardiner, United States
Kushner Studios 
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Building a house using a 3D printer is presenting a few challenges for a New York-based architect 

New York architect Adam Kushner is attempting to build a three-bedroom house, along with a swimming pool, hot tub, pool house, and car port, in Gardiner, New York, USA using a concrete 3D printer.

However, the project has run into problems with shipping a large-scale, concrete 3D printer across the Atlantic being one of the most significant.

The proposal by Kushner, founder and principal of design firm Kushner Studios, is among a raft of recent plans to 3D-print full-scale buildings. Several structures - including a 12,000 sq ft residence and a five-story apartment block—have been printed and assembled in China. Others are in the works in Amsterdam and throughout the United States, but all these projects focus on modular construction.

Kushner aims to print his estate from the ground up. First the hot tub, the 2,200-square-foot pool, and the 550-square-foot pool house. Next, the carport and, finally, the roughly 2,200-square-foot house.

But getting one of the few printers capable of doing the work has been a huge obstacle. “I know the unknowns that I need to know, and I already know how I want to go about solving them, but until I have the machine in front of me, I can’t,” says Kushner.

Last year, Kushner put out a call for a collaborator who specialises in 3D printing. Only one responded: Enrico Dini, whose start-up D-Shape, in Italy, manufactures large-scale 3D printers that can rapidly fabricate objects up to 20 cubic feet. The printer to be used on Kushner's estate is D-Shape’s fastest and was developed, Dini says, out of a multi-year contract signed in December 2010 with the Italian Defence Ministry. Dini and Kushner say they’re borrowing it from the government at no cost, save trans-Atlantic shipping, which Kushner estimates at around $7,000 and a few weeks of time. They plan to return the printer to the military when the project is finished.

For now the printer is still in limbo. The Defence Ministry’s standard tests to ensure it meets the specifications of military use have been pushed back. Kushner also states: “they have been proving to the generals that this is a nonthreatening device and not a weapon of mass destruction.” However, if these obstacles can be overcome Kushner is hopeful of a successful outcome.

Commenting on the project Martin Clarke OBE, Director of World Concrete Forum Ltd said: "Its just great to see the tenacity and innovation that Adam Kushner is bringing to his new estate in New York. Unusual for an architect to get immersed in the production process to the extent that he is. It reminds me of the great and prolific inventor Thomas Edison and his whole concrete houses cast on site in New Jersey 100 years ago, including (literally) the concrete kitchen sink and concrete fitted furniture. That was a premature but visionary development which can be linked through to current 3D concrete printing.
"It seems certain that Kushner will succeed in partnership with D-Shape. It will be interesting to follow. The thought of grinding down the finished surface on site is troubling. The stated mix of sand, magnesium and salt water needs some clarification. The estimated cost savings need proving. The market will decide Whether the 3D printer is best taken from site to site with all the variables of climate, topography and materials delivery logistics or is better in a fixed location concrete factory. It will be a great voyage of development and discovery. China is forging ahead in the production of 3D printed concrete and my hope is that they the Chinese, the various UK 3D concrete developments, Kushner and D-Shape can drop some of their secrecy and pool their ideas and achievements into a global 3D and, yes, 4D printed concrete forum for the greater good of the world construction industry."

To get a sense of the printer’s speed, Dini says, a similar-sized but older model of the company’s design produced a 28-foot-tall sculpture over the course of six weeks. The newer model is faster yet, though he couldn’t say by how much. Kushner expects the pool house to print in a day or two, moving the printer progressively around the plan.

“We already know the machine works,” he says. “It’s built buildings. It’s built small structures. It’s passed [Italy's] army test. We’ve printed 28-foot-high sculptures. We’re going to put it through its paces, but this is technology that’s been around for five years. We want to achieve that breakthrough moment where we figure out how to make 3D printing a regular part of our construction vocabulary.”

Click here for a full list of previous Tech Spots.

Nick Myall

News Editor

Kushner Studios

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