3D-printed home of the future resembles a cave dwelling

Sure, 3D printing tech can be used to fabricate familiar everyday objects, and even whole rooms. But why use an infinitely flexible and creative medium to reproduce existing architectural forms?

That’s the thinking behind a London design studio named Softkill‘s far-out conception of what the multi-family home of the future might look like.

Unveiled at London’s recent 3D Printshow, the ProtoHouse concept is a based on a radical new mode of construction based on the unique capabilities of 3-D printing. Fast CoDesign reports that this design –conceived of by Softskull’s team of Architectural Association grads — stood out in sharp contrast to other 3-D printed home schemes at the Printshow, which were either markedly utilitarian or oddly traditional.

Softskull’s ProtoHome is not a fabricated version of the type of structure we have today. It is, rather, the type of dwelling that could only have been created via 3D printing tech, which seems very much in keeping with the Printshow’s motto for 2012: “The Internet changed the world in the 1990s. The world is about to change again.”

This web-like structure looks fragile at first glance, but is in fact based on an algorithm that mimics the way bones grow in our bodies. That algorithm causes the growing structure to direct extra material to the points of greatest stress within the structure, and tells them to form stronger bonds in those areas. The result of that algorithm as applied to the ProtoHouse concept is a series of cave-like dwellings tucked away in micro-columns under the home’s long cantilevered deck.

How is it different from other multi-family structures? It’s hard to even know where to begin.

The ProtoHouse has no exterior facade, so rain and snow would gather and run off the dense honeycomb shape the way they would off a rock formation. Printed in plastic, the building’s structural elements are completely exposed, rather like the exoskeleton of an insect.

The cladding, waterproofing, and insulation are embedded inside the structure, allowing for each habitable space to be nestled inside a cocoon flexible waterproofing membrane — which also happens to be 3-D printed.

The multi-family home of the future, as per Softkill, is composed of 30 discreet sections, the dimensions of which were chosen based on the size of the flatbed truck needed to transport them to the construction (or, should we say, assemblage) site. Each section was modeled to interlock with the others, which means that no additional adhesives would be required during assembly. That is, without a doubt, a revolutionary idea, even as far a prefab homes go.

Softkill partner Aaron Silver told Co.Design that plans are currently in the works for a larger-scale prototype than the (relatively small) 1:33 model on display at London’s 3D Printshow this year. But he takes care to note that ProtoHouse isn’t really a literal design for a house, so much as it is a provocation to architects and builders to start thinking bigger about the potentials of 3D printing.

According to Silver and his fellow designers, “It’s a design that moves away from heavy, compression-based 3-D printing of on-site buildings, instead proposing lightweight, high-resolution, optimized structures.”

Susan DeFreitas, EarthTechling