The walls of your home usually need to be spruced up with paint or some art, but one day they may be teeming with life instead.
Through a new approach to 3D printing, soil implanted with seeds can now be used as a concrete-like building material. Developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Virginia, this building technique could open up doors to a completely new kind of building, with finely tuned ecosystems of plants and bacteria forming the insulation, the structure, even the exteriors of homes.
"It becomes like a living tissue within your house," says Ji Ma, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at UVA who led this research, which was recently published in the journal Additive Manufacturing.
The project Ma and his collaborators developed is less grandiose than a living house. The team focused on small dome-shaped structures made of soil implanted with seeds. Balancing the quantity of soil, water, and seeds, and accounting for the compaction of pumping them all through the nozzle of a 3D printer, the team managed to create a small dome that was soon blossoming.
Ma concedes that building with soil isn't entirely new. "One of the oldest construction materials is soil," he says, pointing to adobe buildings in the American Southwest and mud huts in Africa, for example. "People were building structures from soil long before they were building with concrete."