It seems likely that 2018 will go down in history as the year of the 3D-printed house. At the risk of hyperbole, this is a game changer. How many hours must you work, over the course of a lifetime, to pay off your mortgage? And if you don't 'own' a house, how many hours go into the weekly rent? Now, take that number and divide it by about 100. Because, roughly speaking, that's what is about to happen. You should soon be able to buy a 3D printed house for somewhere between $NZ4,000 and $20,000. The technology has been here for a while, but 2018 seems to be the year it is going mainstream. The most profound disruption won't be to our wallets, but to our working lives.
There are several contenders for "world's first 3D printed home". A residential building was built in Yaroslavl, Russia, in 2015. Others have been built and assembled out of 3D printed components that are later assembled on site. It all rather depends on how you define '3D-printed home'. Denmark might claim a first, as might Colombia, the U.K., the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates and/or China. However, for our money, given the usual kind of definitions, the first 'real' 3D printed home is that of a French family in Nantes, who are moving in later this month (ie June 2018). Nantes' civic authorities are already considering the feasibility of building an entire district of such houses.
It makes very good sense. Social housing projects are a natural way for this technology to find its way into the community. Private companies would be taking a huge risk if they invested in the new printing equipment. After all, it is enormously expensive and will almost certainly be outmoded within 12 months. The commercial odds of recouping costs and turning a profit in this time are slim. However, a government ministry that has a set number of low-cost homes to build within a limited time could save a fortune using this approach, given the amount of money they would save per unit.
This is not just a cheap'n'cheerful solution, though. A growing number of high-end projects are also under way. Cazza Construction is building the word's first 3D printed skyscraper in Dubai. The city is set to become a global hub for the new technology, with 25% of all buildings to be 3D printed as part of their construction by 2030. A pedestrian bridge had been printed in Spain and a cyclist bridge in the Netherlands. NASA is looking at the technology for constructing a lunar base.
So far, media reports have tended to focus on the cost-saving aspect of all this. The full social implications run much deeper, though. In fact, they reach all the way down to society's fundamental political/economic base. At present, the lion's share of our working lives is given over to maintaining the roof above our heads. What happens when this goalpost is shifted? Think about the couple working 80 hours a week between them, just to make ends meet. The whole underlying mathematics of their lifestyle would be changed by a 3D printed house. What about the unemployed person, who is quietly going nuts with anxiety because rent is 75% of their weekly dole? A year's rent in advance would buy them an eco-friendly house in the country, enabling them to live 'off the grid' if they like, and build a self-sustaining community. How might this affect demand in the job market? And what about the struggling family who just took on a million dollar debt to purchase a run-down villa in Orewa? Can the banks seriously expect them to pay that all back, with interest, once their friends start buying much nicer homes for a twentieth of the cost?
This is disruption writ large. It may take a decade for the full implications to become obvious, but it's safe to say that some of our economy's most fundamental 'givens' are now up for grabs.