A team from ETH Zurich university in Switzerland is developing what could be the first house in the world to be designed, planned, and built using using mostly digital processes. The project, called DFAB House, will be realized through a combination of 3D printing, robots, and ingenuity.
The three-storey DFAB House, a part of the National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) Digital Fabrication Project, will reportedly be built at the Dübendorf NEST campus, a research and innovation campus operated by the EMPA institute for material science and technology and the EAWAG organization for aquatic research.
The overall goal of the DFAB project will be to test, in real-life conditions and scale, how new building processes and technologies such as 3D printing and robotic fabrication stand up. One of the primary technologies being used in building the house will be a robotic mesh-molding system.
ETH professor and the DFAB House project initiator Matthias Kohler explained: “Unlike construction projects that use only a single digital building technology, such as 3D printed houses, the DFAB House brings a range of new digital building technologies together. This allows us to use the advantages of each individual method as well as their synergies, and express them architecturally.”
The robotic mesh-molding process being used to build the house consists of a two-meter-tall robot that is mounted on caterpillar tracks. Designed to build in situ, the giant robotic 3D printer builds large-scale dense steel-wire mesh structures that act as both a formwork and reinforcement for concrete structures.
What is so appealing about the robotic printing technology is that it is capable of creating a wide range of shapes, including double-curved mesh structures. Once the steel-wire mesh structure is printed, it is filled with a specialized concrete mix which, because of its composition and the dense nature of the steel mesh, does not to leak out, even before it is hardened. When it does eventually harden, what is left is a load-bearing wall that can support special ceiling slabs made using sand 3D printing technology.
Another process, called Smart Dynamic Casting technology, will be used for the ground floor’s façade. This technology can be used to create customized concrete façade mullions (the bars between panes of glass). The second and third storeys of the DFAB House will be prefabricated at ETH Zurich’s robotic fabrication laboratory using a robotic spatial timber assembly process.
The house, which will span 200 square meters, is expected to be complete by summer 2018. Once it is built, it will be used by guest researchers and partners of the Next Evolution in Sustainable Building Technologies (NEST) campus as a residential and working space. The house is being realized through a tight collaboration between the university and industry.
“We are convinced that this collaboration is worthwhile for both sides,” said Kohler. “An increasing number of Swiss companies, such as Erne AG Holzbau, which is the general contractor for the DFAB HOUSE and was previously involved in building the Arch_Tec_Lab at ETH Zurich, want to proactively use the opportunities of digital technologies—something that gives us great pleasure.”