Signals: 3D Printed Housing ... Smart Bathrooms ... Finland's Foresight ... and more

  • Sharebar
Volume 1,
Number 22
September 20, 2015

Guest Co-editor: Lane Jennings,

News from AAI Foresight: Inclusive Foresight for Finland

In the latest Foresight Report published by AAI Foresight, one of Finland’s leading practitioners of government foresight, Ulla Rosenström of the Office of the Prime Minister, describes the challenges of uniting widely dispersed futures thinkers and incorporating the viewpoints of their various constituencies. She provides an overview of the major national foresight programs and academic work in Finland, as well as lessons learned over recent years that may be adapted in other countries.

Drawn from an interview with Nicolas Balcom Raleigh, an international master’s degree student in futures studies at the University of Turku, “Inclusive Foresight for Finland” is free report available to download from Previous Foresight Reports have covered retail marketing trends and forecasts, strategies for managing wildfire, and the impacts of IT on other technology revolutions, including space exploration.

Signals: Finland, futures studies, governance

In the News: Ian Pearson Predicts Smarter Bathrooms

Within the next 10 years, mirrors with thin organic LED displays and high-resolution cameras, connected to the Internet, will offer you quick health check-ups in your own bathroom. They’ll even perform retina scans and link you directly to your doctor for analysis and treatment strategies. These are a few of the forecasts prepared by futurologist Ian Pearson of Futurizon for U.K. retailer, reported by the Daily Mail.

Read more:Your Bathroom Is About to Get High-Tech” by Sarah Griffiths, Daily Mail (September 17, 2015).

Signals: health, interior design, lifestyles, technology

Publication: What Works

Futures scholar Sohail Inayatullah has published a new text offering best practices in the application of foresight analysis. What Works: Case Studies in the Practice of Foresight illustrates the transition from theory to method to outcome of futures principles in organizations, institutions, cities, and nations. The book may be ordered in print or PDF from the Metafuture Bookstore.

Special Report: 3D Printed Housing. Will It Transform an Industry, or Will It Destroy the Economy?

By Randall Mayes

Abstract: Given the rapidly growing global population, more affordable and sustainable housing is urgently needed. Traditional housing construction is labor-intensive, expensive, takes months to complete, depletes natural resources, and adds to pollution. But 3D printing technology could address the need for sustainable and affordable housing both here on Earth and to fashion extraterrestrial habitats. Although the overall impact on society appears beneficial, 3D-printed housing could have negative effects on the economy.

As we move closer to 2050, the global population is rising from its current level of 7 billion to a projected 9 billion. Traditional housing construction is labor intensive, expensive, and usually takes months to complete. The process also frequently depletes natural resources and generates greenhouse gases.

But now, builders, and schools of architecture and engineering are exploring new ways to provide affordable and quality housing combined with sustainable building practices to accommodate Earth’s growing population.

Over the past century, traditional prefabricated housing has provided some positive impacts, but has not delivered a solution. Factory built prefabricated homes are not necessarily less expensive than traditional homes since they can range from mobile homes to multimillion dollar mansions depending on the quality of their components and square footage.

Life cycle analysis studies reveal that the primary savings from traditional prefabricated construction come from reduced energy costs, since the trucks that haul pre-fabricated parts to the building site are less polluting than the waste produced by older building methods. Despite these benefits, delivery costs and customizations can offset the savings from prefabrication.

Three-dimensional printing is one of the emerging technologies that could have transformative properties for life in the future. While 3D printed teeth and ceramics have been around for a while, researchers are now experimenting with other body parts, food, cars, and airplanes.

Three-dimensional printing could help provide a solution for the need of more affordable and sustainable housing. It has the potential to provide higher quality construction at lower costs, with less carbon dioxide emissions, and reduced energy demands; possibly a win-win for everyone. And not just houses on Earth! Taxpayer money is even now supporting research for 3D printed buildings on other planets and the Moon.

But how, exactly, do you print a house?

How 3D Printed Housing Works
Three-dimensional printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. In an additive process, the object is created by applying successive layers of material until the entire object is created.

While still in the early stages of development, consumers will soon have several choices for obtaining 3D printed houses.

  • Prefabricated 3D Printing Using a movable two by three-and-a-half meter 3D printer, DUS Architects in Amsterdam are producing individualized modular components in a factory and transporting them to a building site. The components of the thirteen-room Canal House are composed of recycled bioplastics.
  • DIY Prefabricated 3D Printing The open source website, which is currently under construction, could potentially enable aspiring homebuilders with access to a 3D printer and a building site to design their own home, download and print various components, and assemble it. This method is described as an open source modular LEGO system. But, despite the claim that you need only minimal skills and training, it is unlikely that a majority of the population will ever choose to print components and assemble their own homes.
  • Contour Crafting On-Site Construction Contour Crafting, is a prototype method developed by Behrokh Khoshnevis, a professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Southern California. It offers a streamlined process for construction from acquiring raw materials to final product assembly using CAD-CAM (computer automated design and manufacturing) software similar to what is used in manufacturing ceramics. Khoshnevis has also developed software to embed electrical, plumbing and air conditioning/heating ductwork conduits in the structure during the 3D printing process.

At the building site, robotic arms with nozzles move horizontally on two tracks. In a process similar to decorating a cake, the nozzle deposits fast-drying, fiber-reinforced concrete in layers two to three inches deep. The robotic arms can place preprinted beams over spaces for windows, doors, and for supports for a second story.

With Contour Crafting, structures are not limited to traditional rectangular shapes but can include customized orders such as curved walls. CAD-CAM construction can also design stronger structures at no added cost to better withstand seismic activity. Contour Crafting-tested walls have 10,000 PSI (pounds per square inch) strength compared to 3,000 PSI for traditional walls.

Using Contour Crafting, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering in China claims to be able to build 10 prefabricated 2,000 sq. ft. houses in a single day at a cost of roughly $5,000 per unit. An array of four 3D printers squirts out a cement and recycled construction materials mixture with the texture of toothpaste. In the future, WinSun hopes to use this technology to construct skyscrapers. The global project development and construction group Skanska has also announced that they plan on using 3D printed concrete for commercial building.

Infrastructural Hurdles

In order for any new type of construction to reach market saturation, it will have to overcome numerous bureaucratic and political challenges.

Building Codes. Typically, building inspectors show up in stages over a period of several months. But in theory 3D printing could soon make it possible to construct a house in less than 24 hours. Anticipating this problem, Khoshnevis is working on a way to embed sensors in the walls of a 3D-printed house that would enable continuous real time visual inspections to ensure that all software-produced materials are performing to code.

Trade Unions. With existing prefabrication projects, trade unions have been known to stall construction with law suits. It is likely that trade associations will also fight any changes resulting from 3D printing construction that could negatively affect their workers. This possibility could seriously detract from 3D printing’s potential benefits in the field of home construction.

Impacts upon Society

Like any emerging technology, the impact 3D printed housing has on society can be both positive and negative. It can improve the quality of life by making higher quality shelter easier and more affordable, but it can also be disruptive and contribute to potential economic wildcards that would be highly transformative.

  • Shift in Labor Force. According to the International Labor Organization construction employs nearly 110 million people worldwide, “plays a major role in combating the high levels of unemployment and in absorbing surplus labor from the rural areas.” With 3D construction, window and door installers, and machinery maintenance workers would still have steady employment. But Contour Crafting and automated installation systems would affect or displace construction and drywall workers, carpenters, architects, and electrical and plumbing subcontractors.
  • Worker Safety. Construction is currently more dangerous for workers than mining or agriculture, resulting in 10,000 deaths a year. But 3D printing could dramatically reduce the rate of on the job injuries and also reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals.
  • Displaced Natural Disaster Victims. The speed of Contour Crafting, should make it perfect for building emergency shelters for victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina which displaced 1.5 million people and destroyed 200,000 homes in the New Orleans area.
  • Space Colonies. With plans now being made to colonize the Moon and Mars, on-site 3D printing could provide a practical solution for Lunar and Martian buildings. Transporting building materials from Earth would take a long time and be very expensive.

Constructing buildings on the Moon will pose a special challenge to engineers. Researchers are now investigating the feasibility of telerobotic 3D printing using local building materials such as moon rocks. This type of construction would make use of solar energy to power the robot printers and generate electricity for the resulting houses.

The lunar soil is composed of abrasive fine particles as the result of meteorites having pulverizing the surface. Since this abrasive soil is harmful to humans and destructive to the moving parts of machinery, researchers are investigating the use of Moon rocks to construct dust barriers.

The Moon has one-sixth the gravity of the Earth. Consequently its atmosphere is almost a vacuum. Similar to an airplane cabin, dwellings on the Moon will require pressurization and a source of breathable air to provide suitable habitation for humans. As a result, builders will need to be careful to use materials that are rigid enough to withstand the pressure differences.

The thin atmosphere surrounding the Moon and Mars provides less protection from solar radiation than on Earth. Even with a space suit, humans are prone to cancer with several hours of exposure. Consequently, any dwelling will require shade walls and radiation shields.

With funding from NASA, Khoshnevis is attempting to address the challenges for extraterrestrial dwellings using Contour Crafting. At NASA’s research facility in Arizona for a simulation, he is constructing Lunar and Martian habitats using 3D printed cement.

Wild Card: Equity in Jeopardy

While 3D printing may provide a solution for building space colonies, here on Earth it could wreak real havoc on the economy. “The printing press led to increased literacy, more accurate news, and increased threats to government and religious authority. These help make democracy and capitalism possible,” according to blogger Jeffrey Joslin. But, he goes on to add, “While the printing press gave birth to capitalism, the 3D printer could be the invention that kills it.”

For comparison purposes, it is unclear exactly how much a house will cost to build using Contour Crafting. Like traditional home building, it may vary widely among regions. Besides land, finished 3D printed homes will also require doors, windows, heat and AC heat pumps, hot water heaters, paint, porches, sidewalks, and driveways. But even if 3D printing reduced the costs of building by 50 percent, could banks withstand the financial stress such a revolution in construction might cause?

According to 20th-century economist Joseph Schumpeter, “creative destruction” (or the replacement of old ways of doing things by new ones) is built into the capitalist economic system. While the planned obsolescence for most products and services is typically a decade or less, for housing, it can be 50-100 years or more. Any dramatic decrease in the cost of building a home will thus result in a dramatic decrease in the value of the average home. It is unlikely that homebuyers will be willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a house that Contour Crafting can build for tens of thousands of dollars.

With the drastic cut in traditional home values and trillions of dollars in mortgage debt, the housing and mortgage industries, as well as many homeowners, would suffer significant financial losses. Those with traditional homes would lose equity and could owe more on their home than it is worth. Assuming that the infrastructural barriers are overcome leading to market saturation but that proactive measures are not taken to stabilize the housing market, it is uncertain if the global economy could rebound.

To ensure that the economy does not collapse with the market saturation of 3D printed housing, the government and the finance industry will need to take proactive steps. One possible instrument is insurance. In the automobile industry, buyers can purchase GAP Insurance for protection from accidents. GAP Insurance covers the difference between the actual value of a vehicle and the balance still owed on the financing. For housing, the insurance could include a maximum loss limit which would protect consumers, banks, and the mortgage industry.

Randall Mayes is Field Editor for Space and Energy & Environment at TechCast Global,, and author of Revolutions: Paving the Way for the Bioeconomy (Logos Press, 2012). He may be contacted at


Contour Crafting, or

Sarah Anderson Goehrke, “LU and Skanska Sign Collaborative Agreement to Commercialize 3D Concrete Printing Robot,” November 20, 2014.

Melissa Goldin, “Chinese Company Builds Houses Quickly With 3D Printing,” Mashable, April 28, 2014.

Michael Maiello, “It’s A Great Time Not to Own a House: The 3D-Printed Housing Market is About to Kill a Bunch of Banks and Make Houses Actually Affordable,” Esquire, January 24, 2014.

Randall Mayes, review of John Quale’s “Sustainable, Affordable, PREFAB: The ecoMOD Project,” Best Thinking.

Kathleen Miles, “This 3D Printer, Capable of Building a House In a Day, Could Change Construction Forever,” Huffington Post, January 21, 2014.

Michael Molitch-Hou, “The World’s First 3D Printed House Begins Construction,” January 22, 2014.

MSN, “The 3D printer that can build a house in 24 hours,” September 23, 2014.

Mike Shedlock, “3D Printer Builds 10 Small Houses a Day for $5,000 Each. Global Economic Trend Analysis,” April 30, 2014.

Rohit Talwar (editor), The Future of Business, Fast Future Publishing, 2015.

“What is 3D printing?”