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Nature-Inspired Architecture: 3D-printing meets biophilic design

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Studies in psychology and the built environment explain that humans feel better when surrounded by greenery and nature, which is what biophilic design in architecture is. Natural lighting and ventilation, greenery, plantations, connection to the outdoors, and open architecture are all principles and ways to create biophilic architecture that nurtures the soul and allows humans to reconnect and restore.

Not only does incorporating nature into the built environment improve people’s general mood, but it also plays an important role in health and wellbeing. This is evident in new hospital designs, where architects ensure that patients receive enough sunlight and have access to greenery to expedite their healing process. Biophilic designs are also seen in contemporary office spaces and buildings, where employees are more productive, resulting in better work outcomes.

Biophilic designs
Pinconsult Associates Limited

Biophilic designs serve their purposes more when they are built sustainably. A modern technology in the construction of complicated or even simple structures, is 3D printing where buildings are utilized using additive manufacturing. The construction of such buildings happens with a large-scale 3D printer that is pre-programmed to extrude building parts layer by layer based on the digital model designed initially on computer programs.

Benefits of 3D-printed buildings include cost reduction due to the decreased need for physical labor and reduced resource waste. They also offer speed and efficiency, design freedom (allowing architects and designers to explore creative concepts without worrying about feasibility, thanks to the design flexibility of 3D printers), and, most importantly, sustainability (3D-printed buildings produce less construction waste and use materials that require less energy and are eco-friendly).

TECLA interior
TECLA © Iago Corazza

Like any architectural project, the first phase is always the design and research phase, where architects collaborate with other designers and engineers to understand the project’s context, needs, and specifications. Next, a digital 3D model is created based on this understanding of design requirements. Once the model is accepted, materials are chosen for their suitability for 3D printing, considering factors such as durability, cost, and compatibility. Following this, a 3D printing technology is selected based on the project’s scale and requirements. Examples include robotic arms, gantry systems, or large-scale 3D printers.

Apart from the X-Y-Z approach in 3D printing, robotic arms for 3D printing have mechanical arms that can print large-scale structures on site. The benefits of robotic arms are their flexibility in creating architectural structures sustainably. Robotic 3D printers are limitless in design, and more limited to the way the robotic arm is programmed to move. For this reason, using this technology for creating biophilic designs in architecture is a promising technique.

House Zero, Texas

ICON House Zero

Built by ICON, House Texas is an experimental project created to test ICON’s proprietary concrete wall printing system. The house is designed to be long-lasting, adaptable, and environmentally friendly by blending into the natural landscape of Austin Texas, which makes it a biophilic design. House Texas showcases the capabilities of 3D printed technology in building construction. The house’s key features include net-zero energy design, material expression (showcasing visible concrete walls), and biophilic design because of its use of natural wood, natural ventilation, and connection to the outdoor environment.

“House Zero is ground zero for the emergence of entirely new design languages and architectural vernaculars that will use robotic construction to deliver the things we need most from our housing: comfort, beauty, dignity, sustainability, attainability, and hope.”

Jason Ballard ICON, Co-Founder and CEO

The Quatro

The Quatro is a 159-square-meter biophilic 3D printed house in Desert Hot Springs, South California, created by Mighty Buildings.
© Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects

The Quatro is a 159-square-meter 3D printed house in Desert Hot Springs, South California, created by Mighty Buildings. The two-bedroom house was designed by Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects (EYRC), and what makes it unique is its intention in being a zero-net emission house, meaning it generates as much energy as it uses. This is made possible by Mighty Buildings’ innovative construction method, which uses flexible, pre-made panels that can be easily assembled.

“We are excited to be the first company in the world to complete what we believe to be the sustainable housing standard of the future,” says Slava Solonitsyn, CEO of Mighty Buildings. “As a result, housing developers will no longer have to choose between profitability, quality, design and protecting the planet!”

An important aspect of The Quatro is its smart use of materials. The exterior walls are made of Light Stone, which was 3D printed in a factory in Oakland and later assembled on site. Light stone is unique because of its strength despite its lightness, and the fact that it produces less carbon dioxide when made, making it more sustainable than regular concrete. The house incorporates solar technology with a special coating applied by robots that makes it resistant to hurricane winds, flooding, fire, molds, insects, and extreme temperatures. The Quatro is proof that 3D printing buildings holds a promising future in sustainability.

Project Milestone

Project Milestone, featuring a biophilic design, is a project of five 3D printed homes by Dutch Architects Houben and Van Mierlo in the suburb of Eindhoven.
Eerste bewoonde 3D-betongeprinte woning van Project Milestone in Bosrijk, Eindhoven van oa Theo Salet TU/e

Project milestone is a project consisting of five 3D printed homes designed by Dutch Architects Houben and Van Mierlo. Found in the Suburb of Eindhoven, project milestone is a 94-square-meter and first 3D printed house in Europe that is inhabitable. It is a single-story home consisting of an open kitchen, dining, and living area along with a single large bedroom and bathroom. The outside walls are curved and sloped, made by 3D-printing layers of concrete to create 24 separate pieces that fit together.


Tecla embracing a biophilic design achieved using high-end 3D printing technology.
© Iago Corazza

Tecla is a low-carbon housing prototype in Italy, designed by Studio Mario Cucinella Architects and 3D printing specialists WASP. Its name is derived from the words “technology and clay,” embracing its biophilic design achieved using high-end 3D printing technology. The house has an organic aesthetic due to its shape and use of materials. The interior includes a living space, kitchen, and sleeping area, topped with a circular skylight on the roof. What makes this project special is its focus on vernacular architecture and the use of local materials to achieve a low-carbon housing project using advanced technologies, merging biophilia and 3D printing.

As time passes, the world evolves and new technologies emerge, however, that does not deny the fact that as designers, we hold the responsibility of maintaining ideologies from the past that benefit our future. Decades ago, with very few resources, people learned to live with what they had, and little did they know that their methods transformed into teachable concepts used in advanced technologies today. Biophilic designs, vernacular architecture, connection to nature, and the use of lightweight materials, all are old concepts, but with the help of today’s technology, can be implemented in the smartest way possible for the benefit of mother earth and its people.

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