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Detroit Is Home to Michigan’s First 3D Printed House

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Michigan has welcomed its first 3D printed home, an unassuming avocado-colored, one-story structure situated in Detroit’s Islandview neighborhood. Led by the local nonprofit Citizen Robotics, the endeavor serves as a tangible demonstration of additive construction’s potential for Detroit’s urban landscape.

The project took shape four years ago when Evelyn Woodman was struck by the transformative potential of 3D printing in construction. Inspired by photographs of 3D printed homes from various corners of the world, she saw an opportunity for Detroit to be at the forefront of this technological wave. Drawing on the city’s rich automotive legacy, Woodman and her co-founder—who also happens to be her father, Tom— ingeniously repurposed a printer that had previously been used in automobile manufacturing.

“Once automotive companies have used them for nine years, they usually just throw them out,” says Woodman.

Citizen Robotics’ Upcycled Automotive Printer

The printer used in the construction of Michigan’s first 3D printed home works with a non-proprietary mortar mix and standard parts, a deliberate choice by Woodman and her team. They aim for each step of their construction process to be easily replicated by others, democratizing access to this technology.

Architect Bryan Cook of Develop Architecture was responsible for designing the home’s cottage-style aesthetic. One of the primary objectives for the design was to ensure that the house would seamlessly blend into the existing neighborhood. Cook felt that an overly avant-garde design would not serve as an effective introduction for Detroit residents to the potentials of 3D printing in construction.

Citizens Robotics took special care to design an accessible home featuring an open floor plan, specifically tailored to those with mobility challenges. The organization also emphasizes the home’s energy-efficient features, such as its “airtight” construction. This design advantage makes it easier to cool the home during hot summers and reduces heating expenses in winter.

Interior of the 3D Printed Home – by Mandi Wright of the Detroit Free Press

Unlike the majority of projects in the additive construction space, Citizens Robotics chose to print the walls and structural supports of the home at their own production facility. Reinforced with a wooden frame and topped with foam panels for the roof, the structure was fully printed in a mere five days. It was then transported to the Islandview neighborhood for on-site assembly.

Despite the promise of 3D printed construction, the team candidly admits that, as of now, they haven’t been able to undercut the costs of traditional building methods. At the time the project was unveiled, it was believed it would cost about $230 per square foot to construct. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority also provided $160,000 in funding to cover the cost of construction materials. As the project moves forward, it will be fascinating to gauge its cost-effectiveness and the feasibility of replicating this model on a broader scale. Despite these financial challenges, the home is listed at $224,500—making it a more affordable option compared to other newly constructed homes in the area.

As 3D printing technology continues to mature, the mainstream integration of 3D printed homes will become increasingly common. Perhaps other pioneering builders and community advocates will find inspiration to repurpose industrial printers and offer new solutions to urban housing problems.

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