This 3D-Printed Tiny Cabin Offers a Creative Response to the Bay Area’s Housing Crisis

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By Lucy Wang
Sustainability and forward-thinking architectural techniques merge in this experimental tiny cabin clad in 3D-printed tile.

In response to the Bay Area's housing crisis and a recent relaxation in accessory dwelling unit (ADU) rules, Emerging Objects has crafted an experimental housing prototype: the Cabin of Curiosities. 

True to its name, the unusual structure is clad in over 4,500 3D-printed ceramic tiles and features a beautiful front facade full of succulents.

Envisioned as a livable or rentable ADU, the one-room structure is weathertight, structurally sound, and designed for longevity.

Envisioned as a livable or rentable ADU, the one-room structure is weathertight, structurally sound, and designed for longevity.

Over 4,500 3D-printed ceramic tiles clad the 120-square-foot building.

Over 4,500 3D-printed ceramic tiles clad the 120-square-foot building.

Founded by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, Emerging Objects is a self-described "MAKE-tank" focused on cutting-edge applications of 3D printing in architecture and construction. 

Partly fabricated from biodegradable materials and clay, the Cabin of Curiosities builds on the studio’s history of 3D printing with unconventional items, including recycled tires and salt.

The home is an experiment of 3D-printed architecture that is both attractive and livable.

The home is an experiment of 3D-printed architecture that is both attractive and livable.

"We are demonstrating that there are other potential applications for 3D printing in the fields of architecture and building construction," explains Rael. "Most attention is spent on concrete, however, there has been very little innovation on this front since it was developed in the 1980s by Behrokh Khoshnevis."

The 3D-printed succulent tiles are made from cement, sawdust, and "chardonnay" pomace.

The 3D-printed succulent tiles are made from cement, sawdust, and "chardonnay" pomace.

"Our methods and materials portray a very different paradigm: one that focuses on  3D-printed architecture as being sustainable—using waste stream, biodegradable materials, and clay–based materials—as well as beautiful, and crafted by integrating contemporary building practices," Rael continues to state.

The "Seed Stitch" tiles to the left are made from clay, while the "Planter Tiles" are printed from a mix of biodegradable waste materials.

The "Seed Stitch" tiles to the left are made from clay, while the "Planter Tiles" are printed from a mix of biodegradable waste materials.

Two types of 3D-printed tiles are used on the cabin’s exterior. For instance, the front facade is clad in the studio’s "Planter Tiles." These hexagonal tiles are made from a mix of biodegradable and waste materials, including Portland cement, sawdust, and "chardonnay" pomace—the waste product from wine grapes pressed for juice. 

Created in six different colors, the tiles are also integrated with tiny succulent planters to create a low-maintenance living wall.

Every "Seed Stitch" ceramic tile is created to be intentionally unique.

Every "Seed Stitch" ceramic tile is created to be intentionally unique.

The cabin’s remaining facades are covered in the studio’s "Seed Stitch" tiles, which are highly textured and 3D-printed at rapid speeds in a looping technique to create an uneven and handmade appearance.

A close-up view of the bioplastic-based Chroma Curl wall tiles.

A close-up view of the bioplastic-based Chroma Curl wall tiles.

The cabins also feature translucent, white Chroma Curl tiles on the wall, which are made of bioplastic derived from corn. More so, the single room houses a wealth of 3D-printed bioplastic furnishings, including the futon, chairs, coffee table, and decor items. 

At night, the Chroma Curl walls are backlit with color-changing LEDs for a luminous effect. The 3D-printed pink Picoroco lamp serves as a night lamp.

At night, the Chroma Curl walls are backlit with color-changing LEDs for a luminous effect. The 3D-printed pink Picoroco lamp serves as a night lamp.

"What's exciting about this for us is that it opens the door for home owners, architects, designers, makers, tinkerers, etc. to use the relaxed codes to experiment in their own backyards, as we collectively try to address some of the housing problems at a micro scale," Rael says.

The chair, coffee table, and cups have all been 3D printed.

The chair, coffee table, and cups have all been 3D printed.

"Much like the garage maker-space movement, the backyard building space might become a platform where new ways of living are tested, new technologies can be invented and tested, and new materials can be discovered," he continues to note. 

The ceramic tiles are made using customized G-code to control the printing of each line of clay.

The ceramic tiles are made using customized G-code to control the printing of each line of clay.

"At the same time, we have discovered that the process works and is scalable. We are confident that 3D printing can be used for buildings from small houses to skyscrapers, and look forward to testing this with larger projects in the near future."

The succulent planter facade is a low-maintenance living wall.

The succulent planter facade is a low-maintenance living wall.

Project Credits: 

Project Team: Ronald Rael, Virginia San Fratello, Logman Arja, Hannah Cao, Sandy Curth, Barrak Darweesh, Yonghwan Kim, Daniel Komen, Cooper Rodgers, Alex Schofield, Phirak Suon, and Kent Wilson

Special thanks to: Ehren Tool, Danny Defelici at 3DPotter, Leonard Dodd at Erectorbot, Autodesk, and The Bakar Fellows Program and Departments of Architecture and Art Practice at The University of California Berkeley 

Additional thanks to: Alisa Nadolishny, Natalie Yu, Anthony Gianini, and Sarah Rippee