• 07.09.14

Beyond-Tiny 3-D Printed Microhomes Could Make Up Urban Trailer Parks Of The Future

At an incredible 50 square feet, this mollusk-like design could be a record in small home living.

If you’ve ever fantasized about bursting forth from a scallop shell, Birth of Venus style, a new 3-D printed architecture project from American and German graduate students might be able to fulfill that dream.


It’s a microhome, technically, the mollusk-like, four-ton contraption that stretches 11 feet tall and seven feet wide. In theory, the size of the shell would allow for lifestyles desired by young, mobile urbanites, the kind who trade New York for Hong Kong for Sao Paulo somewhat regularly. Nine German engineering students and six University of California-Los Angeles master of architecture students had just 10 weeks to build it, following the guidance of UCLA professor Peter Ebner, who directs the interdisciplinary 3M futureLAB study-abroad experience in Germany every year.

Image courtesy of Peter Ebner.

Ebner says the idea for a 3-D printed microhome that could fit inside a shipping container first came to him in 2007, when he was invited to give a talk about the future of architecture for 3M futureLAB alumni. “We’ve changed the whole way we draw architecture; everything’s changed from hand-drawing to 3-D drawings. And if you draw everything 3-D, then it’s time to change the whole construction process,” Ebner says. “Everybody told us when we started, ‘You will never do it.’”

The students managed to do it anyway, printing curved walls in an iron mold typically used for automobile manufacturing. The walls, which were packed full of air cells to cut down on construction materials, function like bones, Ebner says. Inside them fit a kitchen, a table, a folding toilet, a bed, and a skylight (“Oculus”) over the sleeping area to let in air and light. Because the interior is so tiny (just larger than 50 square feet), the walls are packed with built-in LED lamps. The final product also features a sophisticated rainwater collection system that doubles as a space heater; the water heater fits between the kitchen and bathroom, and runs “capillaries” of hot water through the walls.

Image courtesy of Peter Ebner.

But even though one of those bone-like walls can be used as a projector screen, living inside a scallop shell seems like it could also be pretty triggering for anyone with claustrophobia issues. Even the most extreme microhome enthusiasts usually stick to spaces around 200 square feet. Plus, zoning laws haven’t been too historically friendly to small-living experiments. But Ebner doesn’t seem too concerned with that.

“People are moving more and more to cities, becoming younger, becoming single in the city,” Ebner says. “Changing societies change ways of behaving.”

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.