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3D Print Canal House

What if we could print buildings? Well it’s now possible: DUS Architects has just launched the 3D Print Canal House project in Amsterdam that’s planned to grow over 3 years as a ‘live’ exhibition and laboratory for digitally-fabricated architecture.  

By Jeanne Tan / 06-03-2014

A couple of years ago, DUS Architects posed the question: what if we could 3D print architecture? Without much success trying to find a 3D printer that could print on a large scale, the Amsterdam-based architects decided to build one themselves. They’ve called it the KamerMaker which translates as ‘room builder’.  This giant printer is now going to print a canal house in Amsterdam North initiated and designed by DUS Architects. 

The 3D Print Canal House is designed to be an experimental, educational hub for digitally fabricated architecture that aims to engage citizens in the process of city making. Essentially, the process of printing and installing the different rooms of house on site will become a live exhibition that will evolve over the course of 3 years. The exhibition was kicked off with a festive opening on 28 February 2014 – where the first building block was unveiled –  with special events held during the opening weekend on 1 & 2 March.

At the building site, the beginnings of the project are on show: outside, see the enormous KamerMaker in action along with large test prints, while inside the containers, the scale models give an impression of the house along with drawings and other 3D printed tests. “During the opening weekend, we noticed the excitement on people’s faces,” says Hedwig Heinsman co-founder of DUS. “The big 3D prints on site not only show what can already be done, but even more, they create excitement about what the future of digital manufacturing contains. We hope that visitors will experience that there really is room in the middle of the city for innovation, and feel a sense of pioneering. I hope the house triggers people’s imagination: it was great to see visitors, for instance, discuss how to design and download their dream house!” And why print a canal house in particular? The typology of the canal house traditionally accommodated many functions being a house, shop, office or warehouse all at once for example. In the same way, this modern canal house will be a museum, digital laboratory and fabrication site hosting exhibitions, workshops, lectures and other events.

The 3D Print Canal House is composed of various rooms that will be printed and assembled at a different stage onsite with lower rooms being printed first. The building blocks of the house will be printed layer-by-layer in bioplastic as complete elements: they’re structurally sound and printed complete with the façade ornamentation - using a triangulated pattern - and interior. The rigid zig-zagged internal structure of the blocks ensures structural stability while the gaps become vertical shafts for services, infill and insulation. As the building grows and the printing technique improves over time, the level of façade ornamentation increases accordingly rising up to the step gable, the most embellished part of the facade. Each block will be carefully tested before being assembled and the entire house can be demounted and easily transported if necessary (which could likely happen as this current site is on temporary loan from the Municipality of Amsterdam). 

The house consists of 13 rooms, each of which is dedicated to a different research topic. The first six themes have now started: Large-scale printer; Sustainable printing materials; Construction and Building techniques; Downloadable and Scripted Architecture; Smart Buildings; and Scripted City Making. Over 3 years, the printer itself will evolve in line with technology and a second printer will accompany this one soon. Currently, this KamerMaker was constructed by DUS Architects themselves from a shipping container. The control room is located at the top of the container – the access by a high ladder is definitely not for the faint at heart. In a similar process to using a tabletop printer (the KamerMaker is based on the Ultimaker 3D printer), the files are first sent to print here – the same files are used for both the KamerMaker and the 1:20 scale model. Bioplastic granules are loaded into funnels in the control room. With a sustainable emphasis, bioplastic is currently being used, but the designers have also tried printing with glue with wood chips and potato starch; they’re working closely with material partner Henkel to develop new printing materials.

As there would seem to be no limit to what can be printed structurally, the design already incorporates printed facade ornamentation – which can also double up as water collection spouts – and all interior elements like built-in shelves, a bath and even a customised toilet seat can be printed. Later on down the track if a room needs to replaced, the aim is for the raw material to be recycled for printing. The design of the house has been scripted whereby the relationship between points has been designed. This allows certain parts of the house to be adapted for local contexts while the DNA of the design remains, for example angled shading can be adjusted in relation to different solar angles around the world. The house will also experiment with combining ‘Smart’ technologies with the architecture; this concerns the distribution of energy and data but also could conductive or photovoltaic materials be used for printing? Eventually, the house could set a precedent for downloadable architecture for self printing; in the meantime, visitors can download DUS’ design for 3D printed champagne glasses to first test out at home.

The 3D Print Canal House is what the architects call a ‘Research & Do’ project whereby the process of learning, making, experimenting, and testing onsite is combined with public participation - in line with DUS’ focus on social architecture. It’s an incredibly collaborative project that connects parties from all different sectors that have never worked together before: from the local government to a construction company, material specialist, 3D printing specialist, energy companies and cultural institutions. The exhibition has definitely generated a buzz around the topic of downloadable/printable architecture that is likely to be commonplace in the near future and triggered the public and media’s imagination about a 3D printed Amsterdam Canal House. And what do DUS expect to see in 3 years time? “When the house is completed, I hope that the excitement of visitors is still as fresh as it is today and that the house has developed into a mature 3D-printed structure, where different rooms with different structures and material properties will show something of the moment in the process when they were printed. I hope that it will become a permanent place for pioneering architecture.”

DUS Architects is Hedwig Heinsman, Hans Vermeulen and Martine de Wit.

The exhibition is open from Tuesdays to Fridays and every first weekend of the month from 11am-5pm.
Check the 3D Print Canal House facebook page for updates and ways to support the project.

Photography: Marije van Woerden

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