Building from mud may seem like a thing of the past, but BigDelta’s 3D printed homes are about to change that. This 12-meter tall 3D printer designed by the Italian team at WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) was recently unveiled and shows a promising future in providing affordable green homes (and by “affordable” we mean next-to-nothing!). So what exactly is the BigDelta, who is behind it and how does it transform locally-sourced mud into durable and sustainable long-term housing?

What is the BigDelta?

3D printed homes

The BigDelta is a 12-meter (40-foot) tall printer, made from a lightweight and collapsible steel frame. It includes a suspended printing nozzle, through which clay is pushed, creating layer upon layer of building material in the construction of earthen dwellings. Because the BigDelta only uses dirt, clay, plant fiber and water (all of which are plentiful organic resources), it can be sustainably sourced from the local area, not only reducing the cost of materials and their transportation, but also the carbon footprint of the 3D printed homes themselves. The BigDelta can be fully powered by just a few solar panels (using between 1-1.5 kilowatts of energy), is easy to transport between locations and can be assembled simply by a small team of people.

The BigDelta uses open source software to construct thick walls and has the ability to lay down 60-100cm of material each day. The designs can be customized and the team at WASP estimates that just two people can construct a dwelling in around a week, with 3D printing a far less laborious task than traditional construction methods. It combines ancient earthen building techniques with cutting-edge technologies, all with an added element of bio-mimicry, drawing on the nest construction of mud dauber wasps.

Walls can be filled with thermal insulation materials and cavity walls created with aeration canals for circulation, air-conditioning and heating systems. The team at WASP hope that as knowledge is shared from other people’s experiences using the BigDelta, the 3D printing architectural models will be improved and become even more efficient. They are also working on developing a housing project with natural essential oils vaporized into aeration canals which will repel mosquitoes and protect the occupants against malaria.

Who is WASP?

3D printed homes

The acronym WASP stands for World’s Advanced Saving Project – an Italian-based organization that was founded in 2012 by Massimo Moretti. Not only does their name reflect their mission, but it was also inspired by the simple structure and stability of mud dauber wasps’ nests. Their aim is to leave the world in a better state than they found it, by harnessing the technology available today for sustainable development well into the future.

Their first innovation was the PowerWASP – a 3D printer that milled wood and aluminum, while also having the ability to print ceramic mixtures. This was followed by the DeltaWASP printer, which could use a wide range of products using minimum energy consumption. But it is their latest development – the BigDelta – that is really making its mark in the world of sustainable and green housing construction and 3D printed homes.

All revenue from the sale of WASP’s printers goes into further research and development, with all projects so far being 100% self-financed.

The Philosophy Behind The 3D Printed Homes

3D printed homes

The impetus for the team at WASP to develop such a revolutionary building mechanism was driven by the knowledge that “by 2030, international estimates foresee a rapid growth of adequate housing requirements for over 4 billion people living with yearly income below $3,000. The United Nations calculated that over the next 15 years there will be an average daily requirement of 100,000 new housing units to meet this demand.”

While 3D printing for the construction of houses is not entirely new, the use of mud in the BigDelta is, having a huge impact on the affordability and accessibility of the raw building materials needed. Their current aim is to build “zero-mile” 3D printed homes, meaning that all material used in the construction is sourced within the surrounding region.

The team at WASP want to give equal opportunity and knowledge to people to create their own dwellings, rather than being restricted by the monopoly of production capacity. They want to help boost the economy from the bottom up by equipping communities with the tools to create their own affordable housing, using materials sourced in their locality.

Why mud?

Mud used to be a major source of construction material (and still is in many parts of the world), due its sturdiness, durability, sustainability and natural insulation qualities. The Moroccan town of Ait Benhaddou is just one example of an ancient settlement built entirely using locally-sourced mud (which still stands today), effectively insulating the inhabitants against the harsh desert elements.

But as the developed world industrialized and new building materials were made available, mud saw a steady demise in popularity. But when mud is such an affordable and locally available resource, why should it be overlooked? It may not have a luxurious finish, but when cheap housing is in a such shortage across the globe and poverty on the rise, mud could be just the answer.

The Shamballa Technological Village

The BigDelta 3D printer is currently being tested at the Shamballa Technological Village in Italy’s Massa Lombarda region in a joint project between Centro Sviluppo Progetti and the WASProject. The aim is to build an eco-friendly village using low energy consumption before the BigDelta goes on the market.

The name “Shamballa” comes from the name of a mythological kingdom in Buddhist and Hindu traditions which symbolizes peace, tranquility, and happiness. At the Shamballa Technological Village, they’ll not only print houses, but also vertical vegetable gardens, as well as furniture, ceramics and biomedical equipment using a compact desktop printer. You can follow their progress here, where videos of the ongoing construction are being posted and diary entries detail their breakthroughs and challenges.