Adventures in 3D Printing

John Hill
18. February 2021
Photo: WASP

TECLA is a project developed by Mario Cucinella Architects and WASP (World Advanced Saving Project) that addresses the housing crisis through 3D printing. Construction is underway on a prototype near Bologna, Italy.

Project: TECLA
Location: Massa Lombarda, Italy
Patron: Municipality of Massa Lombarda
Sponsor: Ter Costruzioni
Architectural design and management: Mario Cucinella Architects
Engineering and 3D printing construction: WASP
Research partner: SOS - School of Sustainability
Materials consultancy and supply: Mapei
Structural consultancy: Milan Ingegneria
Frames engineering and production: Capoferri
Bio-materials consultancy and supply: RiceHouse
Landscaping: Frassinago
Lighting design: Lucifero’s
Energy and internal comfort consultant: Ariatta
Photo: WASP

Before the current wave of 3D-printed houses being built around the world and proposed for the Moon and Mars, the preferred media for mass-producing small, repetitive structures was modular prefabrication. Build it in a factory (or buy some shipping containers), lift it into place and assemble the pieces on site. But as 3D-printing technology has advanced and the machines have scaled up to handle construction-ready mixtures, prefab has given way to on-site 3D printing. TECLA — named for Thekla, one of the imaginary cities in Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities — is one of many such early adventures in 3D printing, using WASP's Crane system and looking like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Visualization: Mario Cucinella Architects

Setting aside the 3D printers themselves, the most beneficial aspect of TECLA and similar projects is their localness: they can be made from the land they sit upon. The TECLA prototype, which recently completed the 3D-printing phase of its construction, was made from locally sourced clay: "a biodegradable and recyclable 'km 0 natural' material which will effectively make the building zero-waste," per a press release from MC A and WASP. It further explains that WASP "studied the clay materials and identified the key components within the raw earth mixture to create the final highly optimized printable product." What about other locations? The team contends that future iterations would be "built to adapt to multiple environments."

Visualization: Mario Cucinella Architects

Unlike the traditional appearances of other 3D-printed houses making headlines recently, TECLA is more imaginative, recalling primitive constructions but also fantastical creations in its almost amorphous form. The prototype consists of two conical forms that merge together into one, like a cell that has not yet divided. Low projections at the floor provide areas for sleeping and other uses, as seen in these renderings, while a small bathroom compartment sits adjacent to the open, flowing space. The 3D-printed layers culminate in a pair of skylights that bring natural light to the cave-like space while also serving as a reminder of the cranes that built the enclosure.

Visualization: Mario Cucinella Architects

The collaborators who contributed to the form and performance of the TECLA prototype:

  • Milan Ingegneria carried out the structural tests that focused on optimizing the form of the buildings so it is self-supporting.
  • RiceHouse consulted on the bio-materials derived from rice cultivation waste (rice husk and straw) that were used to increase the structure's thermal performance.
  • Capoferri engineered and produced the frames for the openings.
  • Lucifero’s developed the minimal lighting design.
  • Frassinago curated the project's landscaping.
Drawing: Mario Cucinella Architects
Drawing: Mario Cucinella Architects
Drawing: Mario Cucinella Architects

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