This start-up is 3D-printing an entire neighbourhood

It rains a lot in the Mexican state of Tabasco. In a typical year, they get around two metres of rain – considerably more than London, a city notorious for its miserable weather.

This kind of rain matters when you’re living in a makeshift home built out of whatever materials you could find. Cracks and gaps in roofs and walls let water in, causing flooding and making life extremely difficult for some of Mexico’s poorest people.

But 50 of the poorest families in the state will soon move into brand-new 3D-printed homes.

Thanks to a collaboration between California-based New Story and two Mexican construction businesses, Icon and Échale, the first two 3D-printed houses have already been completed.

“I think this home will change a lot of things for the better,” said Angel Mario, father of two and future 3D-printed-home resident.

“Things will get better for my business because we will be in a place where there are going to be more families. The more people and families there are, the more I can sell. Being in this home, in this community, will better our economic situation and our personal lives as well.”

The future of housing?

The homes are built using a giant 3D printer, the Vulcan II. It creates them in pairs, with each house needing around 24 hours of total print time to complete. Using a specially mixed concrete that hardens quickly, the machine prints the structure in a series of layers, creating a ridge-effect in the walls.

This unconventional approach to house building could be the key to offering decent housing to some of the world’s poorest people, according to Brett Hagler, the CEO of New Story. “We feel it’s our responsibility to challenge traditional methods. Linear methods will never reach the billion-plus people who need safe homes,” he says.

Despite improvements in economic performance in recent years, wages in Mexico trail behind much of the rest of the world and are a long way behind the OECD average.

Median monthly family income in the state is just $76.50 – less than $3 per day to live on. It’s no surprise so many people in Tabasco said they don’t feel safe and secure in their homes.

Feeling secure is something the developers have made a priority for residents. The new homes are built on reinforced foundations and have been designed to withstand earthquakes, which are common in the region.

And at 500 square feet, the houses have a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and two bedrooms.

The project is one of several home-building programmes led by New Story. So far, it has built more than 2,500 homes in Haiti, El Salvador, Bolivia and Mexico. The Tabasco project is the first 3D-printed community.

This story was written by Sean Fleming, senior writer of Formative Content for the World Economic Forum

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This start-up is 3D-printing an entire neighbourhood