This century manufacturing techniques for housing. This is

This
essay considers the research question of what are the benefits and drawbacks of
21st century manufacturing techniques for housing. This is
appropriate for my title as I want to evaluate each method of construction in
order to produce a balanced argument and provide conflicting views for each
potential solution. Since the title requires evaluating how ‘suitable’ the
solutions may be, I want to narrow it down to several factors including safety,
cost and difficulty. As mentioned above, I will achieve a fair argument by
using a wide range of sources such as books, journals and articles which will
be then filtered in respect of the information that is necessary to support my
arguments and counter arguments. I chose this essay title as the cost to rent
or purchase housing is becoming increasingly less affordable to millions of
people, regardless of financial backgrounds and social statuses.

In developing countries such as Brazil there
has been a demand for local and long-term renovations, where it is estimated
that more than 50 million Brazilians have no choice but to live in substandard
housing. The minimum income of the majority of these families is approximately
$330 a month or R$675 and there are currently over 26 million people who are
lacking accesses to safe drinking water despite living in urban areas, not to
mention the 83 million people disconnected from sewage systems. Brazil’s largest
favela is Rocinha and is situated the capital’s southern zone. Known for being
the most populated favela in Brazil with a population density of 48,000 per
squared kilometer, it faces regular dangers including mudslides caused by the
favela’s convectional rains and poor quality infrastructure. Although aqueducts
have been built in an attempt to reduce the annual casualties, this method
unfortunately does not guarantee the safety of residents in all areas of
Rocinha. This essay will consider different existing as well as upcoming
manufacturing techniques when it comes to housing and evaluate them according
to their successes as well as their downfalls.

A possible manufacturing
technique would be 3D concrete printing which is a form of additive manufacturing
which is done by using a special concrete and composite mixture that is thicker
than regular concrete and being layered on top of each other to create
3-dimensional shapes which can be utilised in the construction of homes. The
technology allows for faster and more accurate construction, this is due to the
printer transferring the digital model directly into a physical model,
therefore error s are less likely to occur or can only be accountable by faults
or miscalculations beforehand. The technology is an innovative construction
process for fabricating concrete components suitable for housing, which is
justified by Le. T.T. Austin stating that “components are designed as
volumetric objects using 3D modelling software, then sliced and represented as
a series of two dimensional layers.” This therefore allows superior control
over the deposition process of the material to be able to produce new and
original internal as well as external finishes. An advantage would be that it
reduces that risk for injuries or casualties in the construction process as 3D
printers require very minimal human effort which can benefit less economically
developed populations with an increase in health and safety achieved due to
high risk jobs being replaced by computer-controlled processes.  This means the original workforce can be
utilised elsewhere without endangering it in otherwise manual construction. An
additional positive impact of the technology includes the reduction in waste
materials as Austin says, “printed components can be recycled if they are not
used and the construction materials can be made from previously recycled
products”, this results in an overall reduced waste generation which can
benefit both the multinational company and the destination location.

We must take into account however, the inevitable
constraints and drawbacks when it comes to recent technologies, which does not
exclude 3D printing. The current challenges of the technology include the fact
that it restricts the additive manufacturing of complex freeform structures.
Biranchi N. Panda at  Nanyang
Technological University of Singapore, justifies this by stating that it is
“not  able  to fabricate significantly overhanging parts
since this would need support material for stability in the design.” This shows
that overhanging parts lack structural integrity and can cause tolerance errors
with additional factors such as material shrinkage and seismic action. In
addition, 3D concrete printing has seen poor surface finishes as another
limitation, as Biranchi states, “improper control and excess deposition  of material also causes poor surface quality
in the part”, this could not only lead to an aesthetically unpleasant look but
can also contribute to weaknesses in the structure. Lastly, by replacing
workers by machines, a reduction in the workforce which could prove dangerous
to fragile economies in developing countries. This steady introduction of new
and different effective mixes when its comes to 3D printing homes which are a
positive sign for the industry’s growth, but there is also some confusion over
the technology’s full capabilities since different companies are claiming
different results from similar methods. The Chinese company WinSun claims to
have constructed “10 houses using a mixture of ground construction and
industrial waste”, which included glass and tailings, around a base of
quick-drying cement mixed with a hardening agent. This highlights the speed
potential of this technology which can be a great advantage when constructing a
large number of homes in a relatively short space of time.

Over at MIT, architects have produced the
first prototype “Pinwheel House” in an effort to see effort to see if low cost
homes can be constructed for $1000 total. This prototype can be found in Mian
Yang, Sichuan Province, China which is an area affected by the 2008 earthquake.
The Pinwheel House, designed by Ying Chee Chui who is a graduate of MIT’s
department of Architecture, uses a form of modular housing and consists of
modules of 13.8 m2. Chui states that, “”The module can be duplicated and
rotated, and then it becomes a house”, this suggests that the pinwheel
house can be used to accommodate families of different size which would be
suitable in favela-like settlements.  He
also mentions that “if you know how to build a single module, you can build the
whole house.”, this shows that there is little training required in order
to build a full house. This design allows for people in poorer countries to
have access to adequate housing without requiring any special training. These
modules made from earth block and bamboo can be duplicated and rotated to form
a house, therefore if you know how to build a single module, you can build an
entire house. Bamboo is a suitable material as it is not only durable but can
even be earthquake resistant. Its versatility can allow the material to be used
for many purposes, such as dividing walls, floors, ceilings, roofs, pillars and
window frames. Likewise, earth blocks are suitable due to their huge mass,
giving walls made from this material to have excellent thermal performance,
which reduces heating and cooling costs. The houses are made from 4 13.8sqm
modules that can be assembled by interlocking modular rectangular room units,
forming a courtyard in the centre. Subsequently, if 4 houses are combined
together, they form a cluster, with 4 clusters forming a community. This design
of a house allows for internal flexible spaces whilst also giving the choice of
having 4 individual spaces, 1 semi-open continuous space (excluding courtyard),
2 semi-open spaces, 1 all open space (including courtyard). This feature can be
useful as LEDCs can reform communities or share living spaces due to possible
spatial constraints. The idea of the modules is unique as not only does it
fulfil its main purpose of being a relatively affordable form of housing but it
facilitates the regeneration of communities that would otherwise take a lot
more time with conventional aid housing. If this were implemented in favelas across
Brazil, large sized families would be able to live under the same roof instead
of being separated due to spatial constraints.

The current challenges to this concept would be to keep
lowering the cost of prototypes as although the goal is to be able to construct
low-cost homes for $1000 or less, they have been unsuccessful due the resulting
cost being at $5925, but still relatively inexpensive. In the book, “Slum
Upgrading and Participation: Lessons from Latin America, it is said that even
after “the Favela-Bairro project set out to upgrade and refurbish 105
settlements in 1994, the cost limit per household was $4000 per household.”
This is still lower than the MIT alternative which might not make it viable as
the average family income is about “87$ per month in the pile-dwellings and
$184 per month among the hut inhabitants.” This means that unless the
government supports the initiative, the pinwheel house project would not be
able to be maintained properly in the long term.

Another solution could be prefabricated homes, which is
when parts of the house are manufactured and assembled before they reach the
building site with only the correct amount and kind of parts sent. These
prefabricated home have been put up in increasing numbers in places such as
Lafayette, Indiana, where national homes are constructed and a great many of
these are prefabricated. Doris Hasler and Cleo Fitzsimmons, in their journal
‘How Prefabricated Houses Serve Families’, show the reasons for customer
satisfaction and dissatisfaction when using prefabricated homes. In their
journal, they conducted a study by interviewing a random sample of 116 resident
families living in five to six prefabricated homes, provided with a utility
room and bath, without basement. The text claims that “only 6.9% of the sample
reported repairs that they had paid someone else to do, and 53.4% reported that
no repair was needed at all.” This suggests that prefabricated homes require
less frequent maintenance to be done by external companies, but it does not
mean that it does not encounter frequent but less major issues. The study also
sought to find out why residents considered buying prefabricated houses in the
first place, to which it claims that “financial reasons were the primary
factors which influenced families to buy prefabricated houses” along with
“location and availability”, which shows that prefabricated houses are
relatively cheaper than conventional housing and that since many components of
a building are completed in the factory, there is significantly less truck
traffic, equipment and material suppliers around the final construction site
which makes choosing a location a lot easier and increase chances of
availability.

There are, however, concerns that included the fact that
“heating and ventilation was the type most frequently expressed”, this is not
ideal for impoverished residential areas as maintenance for these issues would
be highly competitive in communities which could worsen living conditions. In
“A House Every 25 Minutes” by Charles W. White, the text addresses the issue of
extra costs. The author supports this by saying that “when you put up a
prefab you aren’t through. After that you’ll have to pay for a lot of extras
like wiring and plumbing”. In the context of LEDCS, poor communities will not
be able to afford such crucial extra maintenance costs which provide electricity
and hygiene to a home and are necessary for survival.

The multinational group, IKEA, known for their
ready-to-assemble furniture have claimed to have started producing a batch of
10,000 of their flat-pack temporary shelters which are designed especially for
refugees who experience difficult circumstances due to conflicts and natural
disasters. In collaboration with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR),
IKEA will supply the ‘Better Shelter’ units, whose prototype was revealed and
tested by 40 refugee families in Iraq and Ethiopia in 2013. Taking the feedback
in consideration, IKEA have improved and redefined the design so that the
shelters are more durable and better insulated as well as twice as large as the
traditional and conventional refugee tents with an enhanced lifespan of 3
years. The structure of the improved refugee housing unit is made from
lightweight polymer panels with thermal insulation that clip onto a steel
frame, with other materials all packed in a separate cardboard box , with an
estimated assembly time of four hours. In addition, the RHUs are claimed to be
able to be “connected together and create bigger structures”, this gives
refugees in this case or even poor communities in general a variety of shelter
and settlement needs.

The prefab house comes in boxes similar to “IKEA
bookshelves”, according to Johan Karlsson, Head of Business Development at
Better Shelter, and is designed to be easy to transport and set up on any flat
surface even on fields. Inside one of the flat pack boxes can be found a bag
with some pipes, connectors and wires to be assembled to form the frame of the
prefab house. In a refugee camp, typically around six o’clock in the evening,
it becomes dark and conventional refugee tents have no power at all for
lighting to allow for activities such as sewing, cooking or for children doing
their homework. In response to that issue, all prefab homes have been equipped
with a solar panel for the housing unit which provides electricity to power a
light indoors as well as energy for any necessary electronics. An additional
feature mentioned by Karlsson would be a “specially designed shade net which
reflects the heat of the sun which results in a cooler day time and in the
night it reflects the heat back resulting in a warmer night time, a result that
cannot be produced from simple tents and shelters.” This idea is aiming to aid
less economically developed countries such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Sudan or
countries who are more vulnerable to natural disasters in order to be able to
provide short term and immediate housing requiring minimal effort.

The sole concern of this project is that it only caters for
short term housing for refugees that are expected to leave after a few years,
but if this were to be utilised on a larger scale, its life span of 3 years
would not be sufficient for various communities in LEDCs.

At the ZedFactory, they have designed affordable housing
called ZEDPods in an effort to help solve housing shortage in the UK. These
ZEDPods provide affordable first homes for the younger population who may not
have high income and are built above existing parking lots to maximize function
with limited space. In terms of construction, the ZEDPod parts are
prefabricated off site and pop-up assembly sheds can be set up to locally meet
housing demand or even to create local jobs. Since the pods are identical in
shape and size with each pod being 22.5m2 in gross internal floor area, this
modular approach allows for multiple pods to be build alongside each other.
Although these ZEDPods are considered high-end affordable housing, with
superinsulation, heat recovery ventilation, aluminium clad triple glazing and
so on; we can take from this design that they have made the most out of the
spatial constraints which is a vital consideration for constructing housing in
densely-populated favelas or shantytowns. Bill Dunster, principal of
ZEDfactory, claims that “they can be installed at any large surface car
park, such as those owned by local authorities, supermarkets, universities,
schools and hospitals, and as all these locations tend to have good transport
links, they come with in-built work and leisure accessibility.” This suggests
that the ZEDPods are a versatile potential solution to low income housing as
less developed countries might not have the necessary capital to purchase land
in the first place. By having a patented raft foundation for each of the pods
which does not exceed the pressure of a conventional vehicle on tarmac, they
are able to be more cost effective by not having to purchase land and use
conventional construction foundations.

A similar and additional concept by the ZED Factory called
Y: Cube is a modular housing system that enables the factory-made units to
stack easily on top and alongside each other; therefore it is completely
adaptable to any particular spatial constraints being suitable for tight urban
sites. Multiple clusters of ‘cubes’ end up creating semi-permanent communities.
The units themselves are 26m2 in size with 2.5m for ceiling height
and are held together by lightweight insulated timber panels to create an air
and water tight structure.  In terms of
construction, each ‘cube’ is pre-assembled and is delivered to  the site on the back of a lorry and lifted
into place using cranes before being made ready for use through connection to
mains water, gas and electricity. It is a quick and efficient method of
construction that requires no scaffolding or water on site, making it a quiet
and neighbourly process.

Although
we have outlined different construction methods, it would be appropriate to
assess the viability of materials when it comes to low income housing. So far
we have looked at conventional building materials such as concrete, timber
panels and polymer panels, but there are other unconventional options available
such as bamboo and compressed earth block.

 

Bamboo can be considered a type of grass, is able
to grow up to heights of 4m high and can be found in tropical climates in
regions such as Asia and South America. The benefits of bamboo include the fact
that they can be cheaper than conventional hard wood flooring making it cost
effective as well as being a natural anti-bacterial which decreases the chances
of illness spreading especially if it is implemented in low income housing.
Bamboo itself is rather durable, waterproof and yet is easy to displace making
it a suitable choice for any flooring. Not to mention, it can be harvested at a
sustainable rate in comparison to many of the rarer species of trees that are
used for wood flooring.

Its potential for the construction industry is
getting more and more recognised as timber availability can be seen as
declining, in addition to new innovations and technologies; bamboo is able to
serve as a substitute for wood. The material is versatile enough to be able to
be implemented in the production of mat boards, flooring and flattened boards.
In order to produce the mat board, layers of woven bamboo mats are woven and
injected with resin to be then bonded together with the aid of a press machine.
Bamboo mat boards are stronger, more stable and more durable than traditional
manufactured boards such as plywood. The many advantages of flooring with
bamboo consist of having a smooth surface finish, stability, resistance to wear
and tear, being moisture and pressure resistant as well as possessing good
flexibility. Additionally, it is resistant to surface abrasion, pests and fire
hazards, therefore low income families are able to invest in relatively cheaper
materials and gain a lot more from it.

In Elora Hardy’s TedTalk, she mentions how bamboo
is the next construction material on par with steel. Its sustainability
capability of growing “1 meter every day” which means that we can have
sustainable bamboo in just about 3 years. Hardy claims that the material
possesses the “tensile strength of steel and the compressive strength of
concrete.” This is due to its hollow structure which makes it relatively
lightweight enough to be lifted by humans. In Bali, she and a team of young
designers, architects and engineers are exploring innovative ways of using
bamboo to build homes, hotels, schools, and event spaces mostly based in
Indonesia.

In countries such as India where bamboo is
traditionally used for structural applications, it predominantly used for
walls, framework, floors, doors, windows, doorframes and roofing. More
specifically, bamboo mat boards are applied in wall bracings and web beams
which manufactured boards such as Plywood are not able to accomplish. With a
cost of roughly $5-6/m2, an area range of 10-15 m2 would cost within $125 per
dwelling, which can be considered low cost compared to other conventional
materials in the market. An example of a bamboo-based cluster housing project
would be Venu-Gram which is situated in the Village Sawangi, Wardha in India.

Another material to be considered would be
compressed earth block (CEB) which as the name suggests is formed by mixtures
of earth, cement, clay and sand to be machine pressed into sturdy blocks. These
earth blocks would be suitable for low income housing as they maximise the use
of locally available materials along with having insulating properties and a
high resistance to fire. In order to reinforce the strength capability of CEBs
we can use synthetic fibers such as polyethylene or even natural fibers such as
sisal, coconut fiber and straw, all of which are potential options when
considering reinforcement for CEBs. By choosing sustainable plant fibers such
as banana fibers we can significantly reduce material and energy consumption as
well as pollutant emissions. Another effect that this would have, would be
successfully converting agricultural waste from landfills into new construction
materials contributing to a more circular economy.

Further benefits of CEBs also include that in poor
communities, they are particularly advantageous as compression machines forming
the blocks can be both powered or operated by hand. Being fire, insect and
water resistant, they are capable of lasting for many years which results in
fewer repairs required in the long term. If compressed earth blocks can be mass
produced to meet standards of strength, durability and toughness, this makes
this material a versatile, affordable and environmentally conscious one which
can be appropriate for the construction of many houses in both developing and
developed countries.

In conclusion, having looked at a range of
construction methods as well as materials, it is evident that there is a mix of
both conventional and unconventional options when it comes to dealing with low
income housing. Bamboo however, stands out as being the steel of the 21st
century with its impressive physical properties which is capable of not only
residential but also infrastructural construction. In my opinion, it is
underappreciated and is currently mostly used in oriental regions, but I
believe that even occidental regions should consider the application of bamboo
in construction as it is more sustainable and functional despite sourcing being
a potential issue. After looking at various approaches to low income housing,
an important factor that was apparent was the dealing of spatial constraints as
well as the facility of construction so that low income population could access
adequate housing for a relatively affordable price in densely population areas.
However, the issue of housing in developing countries cannot be solved solely
through the construction of homes; it should be supported by having governments
playing a major role with tax incentives, policies, subsidies, land grants and
other well-designed programs to encourage qualified companies to enter the
market.