Your next home could be 3D-printed. Here’s how

Experts estimate around 60% of buildings that will exist in 30 years’ time have yet to be built. This equals constructing a city the size of Stockholm every week until 2050. However, the construction sector currently doesn’t have the people or the skills to deliver the infrastructure and homes we need at the pace required. But what if we could offload some of the work to robots?  

Enter 3D concrete printing — an emerging technology that uses 3D printers to create all manner of structures, from bridges and sculptures to houses and even whole neighbourhoods. These huge printers work much like their desktop equivalents, but instead of using ink, they extrude concrete. A giant robotic arm deposits the concrete layer by layer, like a tube of toothpaste, according to plans laid out in a digital blueprint.

This application of 3D printing technology has caused quite a stir in recent years, captivating millions on social media. Just take Aiman Hussein, director of printing at US-based startup Alquist 3D. His TikTok videos of 3D concrete printers building homes have racked up tens of millions of views and scored him over 60K followers. 


Getting ready for live printing at #ibs2022 with @blackbuffalo3d #3d #3dcp #oddlysatisfying #3dprinting #orlando #foryou #concrete #affordablehousing

♬ Tokyo Drift – Xavier Wulf

But while the process of a robot depositing layer after layer of smooth concrete might be mesmerising to some, the real buzz around 3D concrete printing is in its potential to make construction faster, cleaner, and greener.

Building better 

Construction is one of the oldest professions on earth and is vital to our everyday lives: it builds the houses we live in, the infrastructure we travel on, and the schools our children learn in. But, the sector is plagued by cost overruns, chronic inefficiencies, and labour shortages. What’s more, it has a gargantuan environmental impact — the built environment is responsible for almost 40% of global CO₂ emissions and accounts for a third of all waste generated in the EU.  

“If we are to deliver the homes and infrastructure we so desperately need over the coming decades — in a way that is sustainable and cost-effective — something drastically needs to change,” Rob Wolfs, professor in structural engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), tells TNW.   

Wolfs is one of the foremost global experts on 3D concrete printing. “This technology can help tackle some of the greatest challenges facing the construction industry today,” he says, as we zip down the escalator into the basement of TU/e’s built environment department.

Located down a narrow concrete stairwell behind a set of wooden doors is the department’s R&D lab. It smells like sawdust, fresh concrete, and potential. This is where bright ideas go to get tested and validated. It’s also home to the university’s very own 3D concrete printer. For almost a decade, the printer (which sadly doesn’t have a cool nickname) has been used to refine and develop 3D printing technology and has laid the foundation of knowledge for many of the commercial-scale projects we see today.