by Dhwani ShanghviOct 18, 2022
The 3D printing revolution potentially began in 2014. According to the Harvard Business Review, over a hundred manufacturing companies altered their business model to produce 3D printer parts or products created using 3D printing that year. The technology, however, has always struggled with its scalability and has a long way to go in terms of becoming a viable medium of construction. Nonetheless, that does not negate its potential. While the ability to create large-scale structures is limited by the size of the 3D printer itself, it has led to some interesting innovations in modular design. Here the limitation of the machine is used to determine basic dimensions and becomes a tool in the form making exercise as opposed to a means of construction. One of the greatest and most significant innovations in 3D printing technology, over the last few years, has been the innovation of more ecological printing material. By substituting plastic and acrylic-based material with more environment-friendly substances.
A recent proposal for a school in Madagascar by the educational outreach organisation, Thinking Huts, seems to be a combination of the two - the size restriction and sustainable material. Employing a hybrid design approach, the project is looking at constructing a series of pod-like enclosures featuring 3D printed walls alongside locally sourced material. Working with Hyperion Robotics, a Finland-based 3D technology company, Thinking Huts is building their first 3D printed school in the southern region of Madagascar, in 2021. This particular 3D printer is a robotic arm that uses a concrete mixture when printing. While the machine is fairly large (2m x 1m x 2m), it is more straightforward to transport to distant locations when required. Built from the ground up, the dimension of the space is limited by the extension of the arm itself. According to Amir Mortazavi, the founder of Studio Mortazavi, the partnering architectural studio that has created the pilot design, the construction will be facilitated by a 3D printed concrete aggregate made from recycled material. There is a scepticism involved with any project that claims to be utilising recycled materials. However, on closer inspection, one would see that the detailing does not end with the materials used as is often the case, but takes into consideration the quantity of material used. The printed walls are honeycombed and hollow, which means the pods use significantly less concrete in their construction.
In addition to this, each hut is equipped with a water catchment system along with solar panels. Making them as sustainable and self-sufficient as possible. The design of the hut can be seen as a constant exercise in dual functionality. One of the best examples of that would be the walls of the pods. The inside and outside skin of the wall are thought of as two independent surfaces, an advantage which can be contributed to 3D printing. While the interior wall is used as a learning medium, the exterior walls are adapted in places to accommodate vertical farms, and climbing walls.
One of the key concepts of the project is modularity. Halfway between a circular and hexagonal plan, the form of each individual pod or hut allows for a multitude of intersecting variations. The idea is to be able to create an infinite number of rooms for a number of different functions. The modulated plan, in addition to allowing interconnections, can also accommodate the ambiguous nature of the functions they are meant to serve, from lecture halls to music studios, or even indoor farming, and housing. Functionally, a single hut can accommodate about 30 children, a reading area, a whiteboard, desks and chairs as well as two individual toilets.
The exterior facade of each hut is finished using natural pigment acquired from the local landscape. The idea is to highlight the harmonious existence of the educational campus within the natural environment. This coexistence is not limited to the materiality of the structure, it is a deeper allegory for how integral education is in society. The pattern seen on the façade is an homage to a vernacular design found in Madagascar. However, on the upper section of the wall the pattern is perforated to allow air circulation freely through the wall, serving a dual purpose.
In an official statement, Maggie Grout, the founder of Thinking Huts, mentions, “We believe education is the vital catalyst to solving global issues ranging from gender inequality to poverty, achievable through local partnerships, we are building a future where communities have the necessary infrastructure to ensure that education is accessible to all”. Thinking Huts was created to address the education crisis with the mission to make education financially and geographically accessible via 3D printed schools. Madagascar is the chosen pilot location due to its potential for economic growth, political stability, and solar energy opportunities.
You can read more about the project here
Name: Thinking Hut Pilot Project
Year of completion: 2021
Architect: Amir Mortazavi, Studio Mortazavi
Interior designer: Thinking Huts