The Netherlands' fifth largest city, Eindhoven, is best known as the birthplace of electronics giant Philips, for its top-notch technical institute and for being an all-around hotbed of design, innovation and charged-up Dutch geek culture. Its most iconic building is an amorphous, 82-foot-tall glass and steel structure dubbed "De Blob" that serves as a portal to a massive underground bicycle garage. Nearby, a glut of once-abandoned factories and warehouses have been gutted to make way for biotech startups, design ateliers, art galleries and ultra-hip shops, cafes and hotels.
All and all, a fitting place to launch what's being heralded as the world's first concrete 3D-printed commercial housing project.
Dubbed Project Milestone, the endeavor — a cluster of five rental homes when all is said and done — will take shape at Bosrijk, a residential development near the Eindhoven Airport that's apparently like "living in a sculpture garden." The woodsy site, which appears to be already filled with knockout homes, is about 40 minutes away from the world's first 3D-printed concrete bicycle bridge, another noteworthy project executed by the same team from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) that plays a key role in Project Milestone.
Headed by professor Theo Salet, TU/e's concrete printing research group has teamed with several partners to help make the first-ever enclave of habitable homes to be excreted from a massive 3D concrete printer a reality. (The university is home to Europe's largest concrete printing machine, so that certainly helps.)
These five innovative concrete homes, generated using 3D printing technology, are designed to 'naturally blend into their wooded surroundings, like boulders.' (Rendering: Project Milestone/Houben/Van Mierlo Architecten)
One is Dutch construction firm Van Wijnen, which considers TU/e's concrete printing technology to a low-cost and environmentally friendly way to circumvent the growing shortage of skilled bricklayers in the Netherlands. Concrete printing is also relatively speedy compared to traditional building methods, which is key in this dense and rapidly growing region in the south of the Netherlands that depends on a steady stream of new and affordable housing. (Bisrijk is located within Meerhoven, a neighborhood in the northwestern outskirts of Eindhoven that was created in 1997 in direct response to the housing shortages of the 1990s.)
"We have no need for the moulds used to create houses made with cement today, and so we will never use more cement than is necessary," Rudy van Gurp, a manager at Van Wijnen, explains to the Guardian. He notes that concrete 3D printing, which involves a giant robotic arm with a nozzle that squirts out thick strands of cement in layers, allows architects — and potentially homeowners — to get a bit wild.
"We like the look of the houses at the moment as this is an innovation and it is a very futuristic design," says Van Gurp. "But we are already looking to a take a step further and people will be able to design their own homes and then print them out. People will be able to make their homes suit them, personalise them, and make them more aesthetically pleasing."
Van Gurp goes on to tell the Guardian that he believes 3D printers will gain "mainstream" status in the home construction industry within the next five years. "I think by then about 5 percent of homes will be made using a 3D printer. In the Netherlands we have a shortage of bricklayers and people who work outside and so it offers a solution to that."
Located near the Eindhoven airport, Bosrijk is one part sculpture garden, one part housing development ... the perfect spot for elegant, odd-looking concrete rental homes. (Rendering: Project Milestone/Houben/Van Mierlo Architecten)
'Erratic blocks in the green landscape'
As for the quintet of homes being printed and populated as part of Project Milestone, they're certainly distinctive. Curbed describes the small community as looking like a "modern-day Stonehenge." Judging by the renderings released by project architects Houben/Van Mierlo, I'd say they're more Bedrock by way of Bauhaus — artistic, highly functional, white-hued and undeniably weird.
Reads the Project Milestone website:
The 3D printing technique gives freedom of form, whereas traditional concrete is very rigid in shape. This freedom of form has been used here to make a design with which the houses naturally blend into their wooded surroundings, like boulders. As if the five buildings were abandoned and have always been in this wooded oasis.
Per the Guardian, the designers describe the somewhat alien-looking abodes as being "erratic blocks in the green landscape."
Already, the first of these "erratic blocks" — a single-story affair with two bedrooms that measures just over 1,000 square feet — that will be put on the rental market early next year after its completed has already received applications from a slew of eager potential lease-holders who only have the initial renderings to go by. They're sold.
As a press release issued by TU/e explains, in the coming months the first and smallest Project Milestone home will be completely fabricated at the university and then transported in sections to the construction site at Bosrijk where it will be assembled.
The following four homes, all substantially larger and multi-story, will be printed consecutively over a five-year span, allowing the research team to tweak and improve the technology — a "potential game-changer in the building industry," they claim — with each subsequent build. Ideally, these improvements will only speed up the process. It's also hoped that as work progresses and the technology is further streamlined and perfected, the entire printing and assembly process will take place on-site using a mobile printer to further slash transportation-related costs.
The homes, "subject to all the regular building regulations and will meet the demands of current-day occupants concerning comfort, lay-out, quality and pricing," will be owned by major Dutch apartment rental agency Vesteda.
Pointing out that the homes' design "aims at a high level of quality and sustainability," TU/e explains that they won't be equipped with a natural gas connection, somewhat of a rarity in the Netherlands. One defining feature of innovation-centered Bosrijk, which will eventually boast nearly 400 new residential units, is that the residences will be connected to a local wood chip-burning bio-energy power plant or other sources that aren't natural gas.
The monthly rents associated with each innovative home haven't been announced given that the first of the bunch won't even be ready for occupancy until the first half of 2019. However, TU/e has noted that the rentals will meet the need for affordable housing in and around Eindhoven.
Home to both a prestigious design school and a technical university, the city of Eindhoven, in the province of North Brabant, prides itself as the epicenter of 3D-concrete printing technology. (Photo: Maurizio Pesce/flickr)
A milestone ... and a game-changer?
The concrete residences being spit out of a hulking 3D printer in Eindhoven — a "hot spot for 3D-concrete printing" — are far from the first homes to employ 3D printing technology.
In March, Austin, Texas-based construction tech startup ICON debuted a diminutive 3D-printed concrete home that, through a collaboration with housing charity New Story, could be replicated 100 times over in El Salvador. More recently, a tricked-out concrete show home, described as "Europe's first 3D printed house," drew crowds at Milan Design Week. The one-bedroom home was completed onsite at Piazza Cesare Beccaria in just 45 short hours.
But there's a difference. These and a vast majority of similar projects such as the 3D Print Canal House in Amsterdam are constructed as prototypes or research projects, not commercial buildings specifically designed for full-time occupation.
Project Milestone hopes to break the mold.