3D printing has evolved quite a lot since it first arose in the 1980s. At that time, this technique was barely used for prototyping, and the materials utilized were predominantly polymers.
Nowadays, not only have 3D printers been adopted for production technology or building construction (which is our main focus for this article), but they also developed the capability of working with a wider array of materials, including metals, ceramic, and concrete.
But, what about clay? Can you make 3D printed house of clay? Theoretically, one could use clay to 3D print a house. In fact, a successful attempt was made in Italy under the direction of a man named Mario Cucinella, head of Mario Cucinella Architects, back in April 2021. This initiative aimed to address housing needs for underserved areas. (Source)
This latest milestone of combining one of the cheapest and most ancient construction ingredients on earth (quite literally) with advanced building methodologies could rapidly set a trend in house manufacturing industries worldwide, apart from providing a sustainable housing solution for the economically disadvantaged.
TECLA, the First Clay 3d Printed House
TECLA was the first clay house prototype built by Mario Cucinella in the town of Massa Lombarda, in Western Ravena, Italy. Its name derives from a combination of the words “technology” and “clay” while also paying homage to Thekla, a fictional city mentioned in Italo Calvino’s novel “Invisible Cities”.
This structure was erected using soil from the surrounding area, mixed with water, fibers, and a binder.
To this effect, the project employed a plethora of Crane WASP printers that mixed the clay to print the 60-square-meter prototype.
What Makes Clay so Special?
Clay is, literally, earth. More specifically, it’s a mineral “stew” composed of fine particles from granite and other igneous rocks that eroded over long spans of time. For this reason, it’s a readily available material for house making. (Source)
Furthermore, it has been employed since the earliest stages of human history to be made into sun-dried or fire-dried adobe bricks. These bricks would then be assembled with a clay mortar to form building structures. Several pieces of furniture were also made with clay, as well as pottery.
However, Cucinella (the aforementioned TECLA designer) noted that, while clay soil is a largely convenient option for 3D printed housing, it’s not as expedient and practical as quick-drying concrete. Judging from his experience, clay could take weeks to dry and comes with height limitations for the foreseeable future.
What Are the Difficultiues of 3d Printing Homes with Clay ?
3D printers with the ability to extrude clay paste are of recent data, and they’re mainly destined for pottery manufacturing (the Delta WASP 40100 being one of the most iconic examples).
A study published in the MDPI journal has been done to ascertain the printability of clay bricks and complex internal geometry for the building construction sector. The study highlights the possibility of employing clay for these purposes, but with some added difficulties:
- For starters, building a 3 x 4 m wall with current 3D printing technology would take beyond 400 hours.
- Additionally, the printing process is prone to errors related to geometries that collapse when devoid of support, a drawback that could be overcome by reinforcing the efficiency of clay bricks with spatial 3D-printed polymer elements.
- Finally, the small variations in density affect the proper extrusion of clay, prompting errors when trying to print dense geometries.