Printing Bone Homes

3d printed bone house

Fred and Wilma Flintstone, admiring the view from their new futuristic digs.

Lurking securely in one of the corners of 3D Printshow London, what appeared to be a sloppily recreated dinosaur skull was actually a scaled prototype of a printed house. This is not the first project that’s focused on 3D printing buildings and houses, nor the second. The approach is new though. Instead of extruding materials like concrete into the shapes of rigid walls like we’re accustomed to, this novel method is engineered around the structure and growth of bones.

Protohouse was created by Softkill Design, but the idea came out of the Architectural Association School of Architecture’s Design Research Lab, specifically the ‘behavioral matter’ studio of Robert Stuart-Smith. With some help from i.materialize, VoxelJet, and Sirris, the Softkill Design team (Nicholette Chan, Gilles Retsin, Aaron Silver, Sophia Tang) of architects and designers was able to print 30 separate pieces that combine and stay together without adhesive through Selective Laser Sintering. Much like the algorithmic art pieces being printed, the form of the Protohouse was only guided by the team; most of their efforts went to designing the program that procedurally creates the very specific structure. Their inspiration was bone. Why? Because bone is incredibly efficient at maximizing strength to weight and material ratios. Bone is not wasteful; your bones are as dense as they need to be. If you demand a lot from your bones by doing lots of running and jumping, they’ll be stronger than the brittle bones of your neighbor that spends eight hours a day sitting on the couch.

So the team told the program that they wanted a room here attached to a stairway there and the program output whatever structure used the least amount of materials to break a set threshold of integrity. That structure happens to be rather spindly and web-like. All of that webbing is made up of 0.7 millimeter strands, and strength is achieved through their bone-like configuration, like bundles of tiny suspension bridges. While the Protohouse isn’t watertight, its fabric can operate like shingles and keep rain out, so the dwelling is actually livable for anyone that’s 33 times smaller than normal.

If Prothouse is ever commercialized I expect that consumers will insist there be more tradeoff between efficiency and aesthetics. The current procedural engineering may be a little too organic for some, and on areas like stairways there become issues of safety with uneven and irregular steps. A livable Protohouse will likely still need an architect to make final assessment changes. Regardless, it’s good to see efficiency gained through mimicking organic characteristics is more feasible with 3D printing. Tomorrow’s homes look fun.

Source: 3D Focus