3D-printed structure in Fox Hills aims to disrupt housing design

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In LA, designers, developers and elected officials are trying to figure out how to provide more affordable housing. Some say prefabricated or factory-built housing can reduce the costs of on-site construction.

One company, called Mighty Buildings, has gone even further, arguing that the future lies with 3D printing. They have created a 350-square foot demo structure in Fox Hills, which the public can view through Thanksgiving.

The building has two glass walls and two solid walls, one of which bends over to become the roof. It contains a bathroom, kitchen, and studio with a Murphy bed. The solid shell structure was created by a gigantic 3D printer at a factory in Oakland, utilizing a proprietary material made of polymers and minerals. Finishes, appliances, air conditioning and so forth were added to that structure. 

Investor Basil Starr says, “We've been building the same way from the beginning of time. And 3D printing is a totally different way of manufacturing. It is additive manufacturing, where you manufacture exactly what you need, and nothing more.”

While Mighty Buildings claims that its 3D printing system allows for more sculptural experimentation, it is not the only company exploring prefabricated solutions to housing. Several LA companies, including Minarc, Connect Homes and Plant Prefab, are making panelized and modular structures in factories.

Furthermore, the Mighty Buildings system has been permitted for one-story construction, such as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). The goal, say housing experts, is to scale up offsite construction to make it applicable and affordable for building thousands of homes. Some companies, such as USH, are already manufacturing multistory, multifamily buildings in LA, at a price they say can be affordable to the workforce.

Generally however, prefab still has a ways to go to reach scale. That’s according to Charly Ligety, Director of The Housing Innovation Collaborative, a housing-focused research and development nonprofit. He tells KCRW’s Frances Anderton, “Be excited, but modify your excitement to an appropriate level because it's a long path ahead. There needs to be a belief that standardizing processes, which factory housing does, is the future to actually meet the production that we need, given the scale of the housing crisis.”