In the shadow of Dubai’s dense forest of megaliths, a low-slung blip of a building represents an extremely promising architectural development. It’s the world’s first fully functioning office that was 3-D printed.
Gensler principal Richard Hammond, a firm-wide leader of the arts-and-culture practice, had already been working on modular residential systems when China’s WinSun Global approached him about its pioneering 3-D printed building technology. Initially, it was envisioned as a solution for relief housing in disaster areas, thanks to the low cost and quick turnaround. But an intriguing opportunity came from the Dubai Future Foundation, which needed a field office while constructing its Museum of the Future. Instead of setting up shop in a prefab trailer, the foundation seized the opportunity to commission a structure that would serve as both interim workplace and proof-of-concept for an emerging technology.
Garnering Gensler’s award for a small built project in the lifestyle category, the modules, totaling 2,500 square feet, were erected for $500,000. Sections were printed in China, then shipped to the United Arab Emirates and assembled in just 17 days. There were kinks to work out, of course. Reinforcements had to be added and joining plates designed at the last minute. “R&D on the go,” Hammond calls it.
Even so, the prospect of 3-D printing at the scale of occupiable space promises to transform work flow for design and construction. “This system enables less time to be spent on documentation and installation, which means more time spent on design,” he says. The file used to make concept renderings is the same one sent to the printer, ensuring that fewer details get lost in translation. Hammond hopes this process can alleviate the banality of low-cost housing, creating a higher-quality result with a longer life-span—especially, he says, in places such as Haiti needing “permanent solutions rather than stopgap measures.” It’s fitting that the first 3-D-printed office building resembles a seed resting on a forest floor, ready to take root and revolutionize architecture, design, and labor.