Could 3D printing change the way buildings are made?

That was the question explored by a team of Washington University in St. Louis students from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and the School of Engineering & Applied Science. With support from the International Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (InCEES), the team used 3D printing to design and fabricate elements of Lotus House, an energy-efficient prototype residence unveiled in Dezhou, China at Solar Decathlon China 2018.

The Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition that challenges student teams to design and build highly efficient and innovative buildings powered by renewable energy with the goal of preparing the competing students to enter the clean-energy workforce.

The team designed and built Lotus House, a 650-square-foot, single-story dwelling. The exterior is composed of organically-shaped, overlapping panels arrayed around a central axis like a blooming flower. They used 3D-printed custom forms to produce building elements like exterior walls, roof and even furniture.

Although the initial price of a 3D-printed mold is higher, the mold can be reused hundreds of times. 3D-printed formworks also create less waste and use less energy and save time.