AM ResearchConstruction 3D Printing

UTA explores 3D printing homes with cork and concrete

The research aims to provide affordable, sustainable, and resilient housing in rural Alaska

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According to the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), architecture Professor Shadi Nazarian and an interdisciplinary team of researchers are exploring the viability of 3D printing homes in rural Alaska, using a mix of cork and concrete, to provide affordable, sustainable, and resilient housing. The project is led by Penn State and José Pinto Duarte, Stuckeman Chair in Design Innovation and Director of the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing at Penn State.

The mix of cork and concrete, a unique approach tailored for the frozen grounds in Alaska, makes the structure lightweight and provides excellent insulation. Such innovation will allow the homes to be built quickly and reduce material and labor costs. The team’s eventual goal is to develop seamless transitional material that can print at a large scale.

“Part of the goal is to think about how to build quickly and well enough for people to be safe and healthy, as the number of people living on Earth will dramatically increase in the next 20 years,” said Shadi Nazarian, the inaugural H. Ralph Hawkins, FAIA, Chair in Architecture, at UTA. “Advancing construction technology and developing 3D printing is a necessity because it enables us to achieve the goals of providing housing much faster, safer, and stronger.”

This technology could eventually address affordable housing issues in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where housing prices continue to rise.

The Alaska project started at the behest of Xtreme Habitat Institute (XHI), an Alaska-based nonprofit corporation that approached Nazarian and the team after their successful participation in the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge Competition. The competition’s goals were to catalyze the adoption of additive construction technology and develop deployable printing systems that utilized indigenous materials.

The team won many awards and was the only one in the final stage of the competition with an all-university roster of faculty and students. They created the world’s first fully enclosed 3D printed concrete structure without relying on any support structure or formwork during construction.

The Alaska project is funded, in part, by a $1.6 million matching grant program supported by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Denali Commission, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and the Rasmuson Foundation. Some of these funds were issued to the remote city of Nome, Alaska, which commissioned XHI to conduct research, testing, and the demonstration of 3D concrete printing technologies.

XHI is teaming up on the project with X-Hab 3D, a robotic additive concrete manufacturing company Nazarian co-founded alongside Sven Bilén, Professor at Penn State, and José Duarte, that offers printing systems, materials, and designs.

Other collaborators include Nate Watson, Vice President of Engineering and Product at X-Hab 3D, and Penn State professors Ali Memari and Aleksandra Radlińsk, their respective doctoral students, and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Nazarian joined UTA last fall – from Penn State – and will lead broadened initiatives in sustainable material and fabrication research, as well as continuing her research in sustainable concrete materials, for the College of Architecture, Planning, and Public Affairs.

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