Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


postscript houses.
June 7, 2004 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Could this revolutionize architecture? A robot that can "print" a 2,000 sq-ft house in one day without the use of a single human hand. What sort of effects will this have on the future of houses?
posted by christian (37 comments total)

 
hell, i can "erase" a 2,000 sq-ft house in less than a minute.
posted by quonsar at 4:05 PM on June 7, 2004


Woah... people could swap houses on the Internet, and then "print" them. How cool would that be?

Open source housing!
posted by reklaw at 4:16 PM on June 7, 2004


Khoshnevis has tested his prototype with cement but believes adobe, a mix of mud and straw that is dried by the Sun, could be suitable. But Degussa will be looking at other materials.

The 'Sun'?

Crazy sun-god worshipping nerds...
posted by bdave at 4:17 PM on June 7, 2004


It doesn't seem like this would be cost efficient. Sure, there'd be no human needed for getting the basic structure, but you'd still need humans to select a site and prepare it. Then you'd need loads of finishing work to put wires in all those walls and prepare every surface for human contact.

Given that bringing a giant machine that eats gravel and shits a concrete house out can't be free, I suspect this is a costly proof-of-concept effort that won't go very far.

That said, it would be amazing if this brought cost of building a place down, and gave people the flexibility of being able to craft a custom home exactly to their specs, but I seriously doubt this will have any impact on home building in the next ten years.
posted by mathowie at 4:27 PM on June 7, 2004


Although this is a cool idea, and does have some pretty interesting possibilities.... I'm just not convinced that eliminating all manual labour on the planet is actually in anyone's best interest.

Labour skills are an important part of humanity, and we have to remember that for the people who design these devices, it sounds brilliant, and the concept of never having to lift a finger is intriguing... but what about the large part of the population who work in those fields.. who are skilled in manual labour, and construction, and physical know-how? Not everyone wants a deskjob, or could do a deskjob, for that matter. A lot of people's natural skill sets are in labour fields, and not in intellectual areas. and they like doing what they do.

I realize that the possibility of this affecting anything anytime soon is slim.. I just don't really see why so much effort is constantly being put into technologies that largely just promote minimal physical activity in people, and besides that, destroy entire job fields.
posted by paultron at 4:30 PM on June 7, 2004


I just don't really see why so much effort is constantly being put into technologies that largely just promote minimal physical activity in people, and besides that, destroy entire job fields.

I suspect that most significant advances in science and technology would fall within this category. While a new technology may destroy jobs for some, that's how life gets better for the rest of us.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:43 PM on June 7, 2004


I love it, it'll be a long time before this becomes mainstream but damn, it'll be pretty amazing by then.

Soon we'll be able to "print" most things we want. Need a new fender for your Buick? Print one out, in the right color, of course. Broke your favorite mug? Print a new one out from your digital archives.

And then there's the whole porn industry angle.......
posted by fenriq at 4:43 PM on June 7, 2004


Doesn't really help with the plumbing, or the wiring, or the flooring, or the carpentry or the, etc, etc, etc.
posted by zeoslap at 4:52 PM on June 7, 2004


They're using a computerized stone-cutting "plotter" to shape the Sagrada Familia's complexly curved pillars (each one has a different shape).
posted by signal at 4:55 PM on June 7, 2004


It's a rare architect whose blueprints can be effected exactly as specified, without the assistance and interpretation of a thinking construction crew. For nearly perfect description of this process, read Tracy Kidder's "House". Certainly, the more unique the architect's vision, the less likely it is that a machine could complete the work. I would suggest that the only way a machine could build from the blueprints is if another machine -- or something similarly uninterested in aesthetics and innovation -- had created the plans in the first place. This truly could revolutionize architecture, but not all revolutions are good. In 100 years we might all be living in concrete quonset huts.

I like "leading architect" Greg Lynn's comment: "I believe that aesthetically there's a great potential to make things that have never been seen before."
posted by coelecanth at 4:55 PM on June 7, 2004


This sounds like a real stereolithography</a. machine, without any of that wimpy plastic stuff.
posted by Kwantsar at 4:58 PM on June 7, 2004


matthowie: Given that bringing a giant machine that eats gravel and shits a concrete house out can't be free, I suspect this is a costly proof-of-concept effort that won't go very far.

One application where this could be incredibly useful is in refugee housing. Airlift a few of these machines onto a disputed border zone and *bang* housing for everyone.

It would also be useful in "rennovating" dangerous shanty-slums. Evacuate the slum-dwellers, bulldoze a shanty-section, replace with sound concrete dwellings.

Just think of the Gehry-inspired suburban tract homes!
posted by Kwantsar at 5:07 PM on June 7, 2004


Well this isn't the first time someone's tried to do concrete houses... they didn't go over very well the first time.

From that link:
Scarcely less extravagant were the claims of Edison's admirers. "The time will most certainly come when whole houses will be turned out in one piece," a biographer declared in 1907. When the molds were removed, he wrote, "a solid and almost bomb-proof house will be left behind."
Almost 100 years ago... sounds a lot like the FPP article, huh?

However, the technology and proof of concept is not without some merit; I don't necessarily see this as being something that will be used a lot to "print" homes, but it would have any number of useful applications in construction at large, such as: I like the last two uses best. This could represent a workable way to put up solid housing fast in places where housing is needed in a hurry.

This sounds like a technology where you could load the processing gear into a C-17 or C-130 and fly it anywhere in the world within 36 hours. Obviously you'd have to get the water, sand and portland cement there as well, but these sorts of uses sound like more sensible and practical uses for the idea.

On preview: ya beat me to it, Kwantsar. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 5:09 PM on June 7, 2004


"...a giant machine that eats gravel and shits a concrete house..."

Truly built like a brick shithouse.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:11 PM on June 7, 2004


Woops, somehow my link got lost. Here it is.
posted by zoogleplex at 5:17 PM on June 7, 2004


Wow. Rapid prototyping machines on steroids.
posted by kahboom at 5:29 PM on June 7, 2004


If you were interested simply low-cost, practical structures, would it not be more economical (if less aesthetically promising) to have a machine that could grab standard cinderblocks and slap them together according to a blueprint?
posted by 4easypayments at 5:41 PM on June 7, 2004


Whole house construction (49MB/21MB wmv)
More here.
posted by eddydamascene at 6:22 PM on June 7, 2004


If I was in charge of the printing, no matter how I sized it, one side of the house would be left open and the last piece would be continued on the next lot.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:23 PM on June 7, 2004


Sounds nice in theory, but that video eddyd links to is creepy. I'm not sure whether it's the endlessly-looping soundtrack, the profoundly uninspired architecture, the hyper-clean animation of smooth geometric surfaces intended to represent a house, the suburban tract housing setting, the lack of any indication of human scale, the sense that it's being built not on earth, but on a perfect Euclidean plane somewhere, or that there's no space left for a stairway to the top floor... but something about it is disturbing. I didn't realize that houses had an "uncanny valley", but there it is.
posted by sfenders at 7:19 PM on June 7, 2004


I suspect that most significant advances in science and technology would fall within this category. While a new technology may destroy jobs for some, that's how life gets better for the rest of us.

I agree with you about the majority of significant advances so far.

I also think that it's exactly that kind of attitude that leads to heartless division of labour, and creates/perpetuates the link between skill sets (labour vs intellectual) and class. "Life getting better for the rest of us" on the backs of, or at the expense of "the rest" (read: working class) is a pretty shitty way of running things.

I understand that we're at a point where we can't go back on what we have, but I'd like to think that we can at least be conscious from here on in the decisions and directions that we make advances in.

We can't force the craft and labour skills out of the world, those are a part of what make us human. And what right do we really have to decide that intellectual work (non-physical) is more valid than labour-based trade skills? People have inclinations, and talents, and it's just not fair to totally make obsolete the skills that a large percent of the population rely on to live, and feel productive. It's just not true that anyone could do any job, and lots of people would be at a total loss if they couldn't work within their natural skills.

As someone who's particular skill set is art-based, I am fully conscious of the fact that I could not run an office, or do someone's taxes, or write reports, or analyse elections (or build a house, for that matter).. my brain doesn't work that way. And if all visual artists were made obsolete because people decided that computer-made art was cheaper and easier to get, then I would be at a total loss. People's varied strengths and weaknesses need to be embraced to have a balanced society.
posted by paultron at 7:41 PM on June 7, 2004


I think this is an excellent idea that should be explored more. It immediately occurred to me that this idea could be revolutionary, if combined with the kind of architectural ideas seen at Arcosanti. I've sent them both an email on it, infact.

More info on the process of Contour Crafting is available here.
posted by insomnia_lj at 8:00 PM on June 7, 2004


Me, I just want a reasonably priced, well made hobbit house...preferably in the Bordeaux region...and then, then I'll be happy. Ooooh, and a pony!
posted by dejah420 at 8:01 PM on June 7, 2004


I also think that it's exactly that kind of attitude that leads to heartless division of labour, and creates/perpetuates the link between skill sets (labour vs intellectual) and class. "Life getting better for the rest of us" on the backs of, or at the expense of "the rest" (read: working class) is a pretty shitty way of running things.

I submit that you have things exactly backwards. Technological advancements tend to benefit the "working class" as much as, or more than, the upper class - who, after all, have never really had to do much physical labor throughout recorded history.
posted by me & my monkey at 8:21 PM on June 7, 2004


an idea WAY ahead of it's time....meaning it'll be another 100 years before this would become in anyway productive.

It sounds like they would be using an extremely low slump concrete that would have to set nearly instantaneously (possibly shotcrete), or they'd have to switch to some form of epoxy bonding agent (even quick set concretes take a few hours to set (ie: be hard enough that they'll support thier own weight) and another week before they reach thier design strength. That doesn't even begin to answer the question of how they would form openings such as windows or doors without some formwork (don't even get me started on the roof).

However, the thing that really kills it for me is that this system doesn't appear to have any steel reinforcing...which is pretty ironic considering the guy is outa california (unreinforced concrete and masonry is a deathwish in an earthquake, or heavy wind). So basically what you would get would be a big heavy curving wall with no openings that makes up the outside of the structure and then you would have to fill in the rest of it....which may be cheaper then just getting the normal formwork and normal concrete (but i SERIOUSLY doubt it as the reason concrete is popular is BECAUSE it's cheap).

sometimes things have not become reality because they shouldn't.

As for the automation of basic jobs, it's something that will happen wether it should or not (seriously, how many people are out there still picking cotton). At what point do we just throw in the towel and go back to being cavemen.
posted by NGnerd at 8:31 PM on June 7, 2004


Very fast construction of emergency shelters...

So, rather than fly in fifty thousand plastic tarps, we'd fly in three hundred and fifty tons of advanced fabrication gear? Um, no.
posted by aramaic at 8:38 PM on June 7, 2004


Certainly, the more unique the architect's vision, the less likely it is that a machine could complete the work. I would suggest that the only way a machine could build from the blueprints is if another machine -- or something similarly uninterested in aesthetics and innovation -- had created the plans in the first place.

I don't agree with this. If the blueprints are very exact and CAD produced, then I think a robotic builder would be the perfect tool to perform this task.

What you're saying sounds to me like suggesting that machinists with hand tools could do better than a CNC machine lathing a steel part.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:42 PM on June 7, 2004


paultron, you inspire me to this rant.

We can't force the craft and labour skills out of the world, but we can (er, theoretically, in the distant future) force the people that have them out of the employment market.

I don't know what percentage of our population is employed doing things that would be useless if it weren't for particular aspects of the world culture that we'd likely be better off without, but it's got to be pretty large by now. Sales, marketing, and advertising come to mind. The military. The majority of the entertainment industry. Banks, insurance, accounting, the whole financial industry. Computer programmers (that's me). All those people who run offices, do someone's taxes, write reports, or analyse elections. Construction, maintenance, and security for the facilities of all those above-mentioned industries. With a few limited exceptions (ie. those few computer programmers who do something generally useful to humanity (not me, I'm just in it for the money dude)), we could probably do without all those occupations and many more. If we can add building houses to the list, so much the better. Soon, like within a few thousand years, all our labour could be made redundant. We're half way there already.

But there are still too many people that do actual productive work for things to properly break down just yet. The revolution will come when all the work that's actually useful has been automated. Don't let's stop now! Automate everything, help the singularity along.

The "singularity" of course, is when the only useful human work of any kind left being done to keep the world economy going is one particular woman whose job is to push a little red button once every six hours. Only she can do it, since the remarkably sophisticated AI system that controls the rest of the world has become accustomed to the reassuring touch of her fingerprint, and refuses to work without it. When her demands for a more comfortable chair are refused by management, she protests by convincing the computer to permanently eliminate the job positions of the 23% of people world-wide who are still employed by that time. The computer builds her a nice house in Bordeaux.
posted by sfenders at 8:46 PM on June 7, 2004


Technological advancements tend to benefit the "working class" as much as, or more than, the upper class - who, after all, have never really had to do much physical labor throughout recorded history.

Obviously technology has benefited everybody in numerous ways, but that doesn't mean that there's no lines that shouldn't be considered very carefully before being crossed.

I can't even really imagine how tech. advancements would benefit the working class as much as, or more than the upper class.. as technology has historically, and inherently been expensive and largely available to those with money.

And if the argument is that the benefits of technology is relieving people of labour by doing it for them... well, that sounds good, (and to some extent, IS good, and helpful) but when relieving people of labour means eliminating their jobs, how is that benefiting them? People don't lose their jobs and then just kick back on the couch and say to themselves "Finally! I was so sick of gainful employment! Goodbye manual labour!" Not everyone can just pick up something else, as has been proven by years and years of unemployment increases due to automation... many people stay unemployed for years, because just picking up another trade is often not only difficult, but impossible.
posted by paultron at 9:49 PM on June 7, 2004


Don't get me wrong.. all these new technologies are really cool, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't find them kind of exciting, or intriguing... I just think that the whole idea of automating construction (and many other things) so that humans are unnecessary to the process is a little depressing.

If nothing else... I would much rather live in a home built by human hands than by a robot. Sleek, minimal architecture is so cold. Cool looking, but wholly impersonal.
posted by paultron at 9:57 PM on June 7, 2004


I think in less then 50 years most jobs will be eliminated.
All it will take is for computer vision to develop a bit more.

Places like the USA are going to be in big trouble.

You should check out Robot Nation and the other essays written on that site.
posted by Iax at 11:03 PM on June 7, 2004


I can't even really imagine how tech. advancements would benefit the working class as much as, or more than the upper class.. as technology has historically, and inherently been expensive and largely available to those with money.

Washing machines, vacuum cleaners, cars, electric lights, and running water were all once high-tech privileges of the rich. But that's the only way society has ever been able to successfully finance the work needed to invent and perfect new technology. Once they get perfected in the real world, thanks to the rich people testing them, then they become cheap enough to be available to everyone. At that point, people railed against them for dehumanizing honest labor and provoking unknown social consequences.

I would much rather live in a home built by human hands than by a robot.


I assume you like your dishes washed by hand as well. Think of all those dishwashers who had to retrain! If more women were in the home washing dishes, more jobs would be available. And houses built with mass-produced bricks and roof tiles are just so tacky.

I think in less then 50 years most jobs will be eliminated.


Doesn't anyone study history anymore? People have been saying this since the Industrial Revolution started. But people always want more. Once basic houses can be mass-produced cheaply, those with a bit more money will want to spend it on design improvements that can't be automated. The future of the developed world's economies is more people working in personal services and aesthetic design, and fewer people working in production and mindless "knowledge work". Nail salons and custom landscaping are today's growth businesses.
posted by fuzz at 3:56 AM on June 8, 2004


word up, fuzz. But let's remember it's not an either/or situation. There is still a market (high end) for hand-made cabinetry, & stationary, & etc. So long as people value such things, there will be a market for them, and they won't disappear. In fact, given that most of us grew up with white collar parents, there will be more of a move back to the trades, be it chef, stonemason, carpenter, or mechanic. Even now people look back wistfully to 'real jobs'. Hell, why do we want the country home in Bordeaux, and not Newark? There's an authenticity that we value and wish to regain in some manner.
posted by leotrotsky at 5:18 AM on June 8, 2004


The US housing industry is a massive cultural complex designed to keep you enslaved for your adult working life. Unfortunately I can't convince my wife to move into a hole in the ground, so I pay $850/month for my 2500/sq. ft. suburban tract house in the desert, when I could be living in an underground home with lots of skylights for half that price. Then there's the Yurt option.

I'm always amazed that manufactured homes haven't increased in quality and decreased in price, significantly.
posted by mecran01 at 7:09 AM on June 8, 2004


wow ... $850 a month ... I pay twice that for 500 sq feet less, and that's cheap for Seattle.

This thing will get wide use once it's more cost effective to use it than traditional methods. Then traditional methods will become a luxury item. Smaller workforce, but better paid (hopefully).

The world economy will just chug along, there may be an implosion point, but I'm not an economist so I have no idea when that might be.
posted by Dillenger69 at 10:50 AM on June 8, 2004


Aramaic:

"So, rather than fly in fifty thousand plastic tarps, we'd fly in three hundred and fifty tons of advanced fabrication gear? Um, no."

Plastic tarps are lousy shelter in, say, monsoon/flooding season in Bangladesh, for example. It generally takes months if not years to relocate and rehouse large dislocated groups of people in any sort of substantial shelter. Of course we would fly in tents and tarps immediately, but the next planes could bring this stuff in and be used to put up semi-permanent, robust housing for 50,000 people in a matter of a week or two - not to mention facilities for medical care and food/necessities storage. This could even be adapted to laying down a large-aircraft capable runway right there at the disaster zone, bringing aid directly where it's needed with no intermediaries to steal the food or supplies.

And the military applications are obvious. I wouldn't discount this idea, though I'm not enthusiastic about it as a "mainstream" construction technology.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:30 AM on June 9, 2004


BTW, this might work REALLY well as a flood-mitigation measure; instead of humans laying sandbags, this thing could build a concrete dam to head off rising floodwaters. That would save a hell of a lot of real estate and crops, and therefore untold billions of dollars.

That use right there would make this a very worthwhile device.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:32 AM on June 9, 2004


« Older Kick-off!...   |   Rumsfeld fears U.S. losing lon... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments