In addition to speed, simplicity of construction and on-the-ground manpower, disaster relief housing relies heavily on building materials — materials that are low-cost, readily available and that can stand up against the elements when need be.
From roofs composed of shipping pallets and discarded plastic water bottles to walls erected from earthquake rubble, there’s no shortage of ingenuity and innovation in the realm of disaster relief housing. Yet it’s the simplest, cheapest and most abundant material that can make the most significant impact in disaster-stricken areas: mud.
It’s the soft, sludgy, sticky marriage of earth and water that’s at the center of a disaster housing scheme pitched by do-gooding Italian 3-D printing collective WASP (World Advance Saving Project). Of course, using mud, clay and other natural materials to construct simple dwellings isn’t exactly a new idea — it’s a really, really old idea. But pairing an ancient, earthen building material with advanced 3-D printing technology to construct affordable housing, now that’s new.
Presenting a sort of next-gen, maker-friendly take on Earthship construction (but minus the need for all those tires), WASP, as the company's name portrays, is one centered around biomimicry. Specifically, the Ravenna-based studio is influenced by the architectural ingenuity of a particularly hated-on order of flying arthropods that construct elaborate nests out of natural materials such as wood pulp and, yep, mud. However strong your distaste for wasps, you do have to hand it them as they’re one of nature’s original budget-friendly homebuilders.
To construct these affordable, insect-inspired earthen homes, WASP has created one beast of a 3-D printer. Dubbed BigDelta in a nod to its delta robot roots, this very big sister (40 feet tall!) to a mud-squirting 13-foot prototype printer unveiled by WASP earlier this year in Rome is heralded as the world’s largest 3-D printer.
WASP recently debuted BigDelta as the impossible-to-miss centerpiece of La Realtà del Sogno (“Reality of Dreams”), a three-day festival in Massa Lambarda, Italy, “where philosophical reasoning meets technology.” Described in press materials as a "rally," the event, complete with campsites, concerts and theatrical performances set around the giant printer as if it were some sort of idol, sounds like it played out like more or less a modern-day Woodstock for the robotics crowd.
While immense in size, BigDelta operates in a relatively straightforward manner. Suspended from the center of a lightweight, collapsible steel frame is an oversized rotating nozzle-cum-mixer that, moving in a circular motion, squirts out a mixture of clay, straw, dirt, water, plant fibers and other materials. The process isn't too dissimilar from a baker methodically piping on layers of icing atop a cake. While a variety of materials can potentially be fed into the 20-foot-diameter printer, WASP places an emphasis on eco-friendly indigenous materials (read: not cement) that can quickly and easily be sourced directly from the ground where the dwelling itself will be generated, layer upon intricate layer.
The device itself consumes a minimum amount of energy and can be powered, presumably, via electric generator.
And sorry wasps, but it's been noted that as the technology is further developed and potentially put into action, a potent insect-repellent would be added to the sludgy mix before it is squired out by the printer's giant nozzle. This makes good sense as the structure itself would help to protect its inhabitants from deadly vector-borne diseases common in developing and disaster-stricken areas.
In a press release, the folks at WASP throws out some pretty sobering statistics that help to further their case for dirt cheap dirt dwellings:
Building BigDelta is much more than a dream come true if we consider that, by 2030, international estimates foresee a rapid growth of adequate housing requirements for over 4 billion people living with yearly income below $3,000. The United Nations calculated that over the next 15 years there will be an average daily requirement of 100, 000 new housing units to meet this demand.
Outside of disaster relief housing and dwellings erected to meet quickly multiplying populations in developing areas, WASP has indicated that the small Sardinian city of Iglesias has expressed interest in experimenting with mud hut housing for its denizens. Here's hoping that Janet Van Dyne manages to get her name on the waiting list.