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“The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” stated Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, at the prestigious Milken 2016 Global Conference in Beverly Hills. At the event he put forward six “moonshot initiatives” that he believes will have a massive and long-lasting impact on the world. To the surprise of some was the inclusion of 3D printed buildings was on the list.

Schmidt told the more than 3,500 prominent politicians, technologists and celebrities that, construction represents 5% of the economy, and that entire sector can be made cheaper, more efficient and superior when it begins to integrate 3D printing.

Currently, construction is time-consuming, energy-intensive, wasteful and costly, he contended. With the use of 3D printing, however, construction times could be drastically decreased; furthermore almost any type of building could potentially be made from recycled materials and all production would take place on site.

Schmidt also pointed out that not only would 3D printing significantly decrease construction costs, but it would also reduce the sectors carbon footprint.

Schmidt’s other ‘moonshot initiatives’ included; a transition from meat-based diets to vegetable-based diets, the integration of virtual reality into society, opening up medical data through sensors and smartphones, the development of self-driving cars, and a tech-focused overhaul of education. Considering recent developments in 3D printed buildings and each of the other five initiatives, you might say they paint a relatively realistic picture of a not too distant future.

Last March, Chinese firm WinSun, claimed to have printed 10 houses in just 24 hours, using a proprietary 3D printer that uses a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste, such as glass and tailings, around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent.

Now, WinSun has further demonstrated the efficacy of its technology, with a five-storey apartment building and a 1,100 square metre (11,840 square foot) villa, complete with decorative elements inside and out, on display at Suzhou Industrial Park.

In Singapore the Centre for 3D Printing was establish in May with S$150 million (US$107.7 million) of funding from the government and industry to research how 3D printing can be used in the Southeast Asian state. Within three years the center’s Executive Director, Professor Chua Chee Kai, expects to be producing “printable concrete” and new machines that are large enough to print building parts.

“In the area of housing there are quite big challenges. There is no assistance of 3D printers and no availability of printable concrete. We have to develop all this from scratch”, he said.

Also in May, a new proof of concept was unveiled in Dubai. The 250-square-metre space (2,700 square foot) is what Dubai’s Museum of the Future project is calling the world’s first 3D-printed office building. A special cement mixture was used, printed layer by layer, over 17 days, at a cost of about $140,000, with half the usual labor.

Then at the end of September, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) awarded Convrgnt Value Engineering the tender to design and construct the first building in the UAE to be fully printed onsite and the first 3D-printed laboratory building in the world. The laboratory will be built as part of the Research & Development centre at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, and will conduct research on drones, and 3D-printing technology.

“DEWA’s vision is inspired by the wise words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who said that, “The future will depend on 3D printing technologies in all aspects of our life, starting from houses we live in, the streets we use, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear and the food we eat,”” said HE Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, MD & CEO of DEWA

The construction industry, not known for its speed of evolving, has already been adapting to the digital revolution with Building Information Modeling (BIM) and smart technologies, alongside a stronger commitment to leaner and greener construction. This all stands the sector in good stead for the emergence of 3D printing as smart infrastructure, efficiency and environmental responsibility can be planned into the design.

BIM, meanwhile, is at the heart of the 3D printed building movement providing the software to govern the design and construction process. Austrian architect, Wolf D Prix, is pioneering the use of robots at one of his latest projects – the Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE) in Shenzhen, China. Led by a BIM system, robots will mould and assemble, weld and polish the hyperbolic metal plates that make up the museum’s irregularly curved stainless-steel centre.

Combining robots with the use of 3D-printed building components will make it much easier to create buildings with complex shapes, Prix said. It’s quicker too he points out, “Normally this part of the building would take eight months with 160 workers on the site,” said Prix. “Now we need eight workers on site, and it takes 12 weeks.”

With quicker construction, less labor, lower cost, as well as greater control and customization to create a leaner, greener, smarter building – it’s fair to say that the invention of 3D printed buildings, as Schmidt suggested, has made it easy to predict the future of construction.

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