The world’s first 3D-printed school will soon rise on the African island nation of Madagascar. With a speedy construction timeline and a process that can be easily replicated, the school could become a new model for providing much-needed educational spaces in underresourced communities.
Designed by Studio Mortazavi, an architecture firm based in San Francisco and Lisbon, the school is a project of the nonprofit Thinking Huts, which aims to increase global access to education through 3D printing. This first iteration will be built later this year on the campus of a university in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar. With an exterior pattern based on Malagasy textiles and 3D printed using material from the local area, the building is both an example of advanced building technologies and a reflection of vernacular building styles.
Architect Amir Mortazavi says the 3D printing approach makes for fast building, while also addressing local shortages of labor. “We can build these schools in less than a week, including the foundation and all the electrical and plumbing work that’s involved,” he says. “Something like this would typically take months, if not even longer.”
The school’s design is based on a honeycomb, separated into individual nodes. Each polygonal node is mostly a single open room, with two small bathrooms, a closet space, windows, custom-designed passive ventilation near the ceiling, and two wide entrances. Mortazavi says the nodes can be combined to form clusters of rooms that either expand the space or remain as individual rooms for different educational purposes. “We can have classrooms for different age groups, science laboratories, computer laboratories, housing for teachers, for students, music nodes, fine arts rooms,” he says. “We designed it in a way that we could combine dozens of these together.”
For now, the pilot project will be one single node. Mortazavi says the project—his first 3D-printed building—will be constructed in conjunction with the university to fine-tune both the design and the production technique. He expects that it will be expanded with new nodes after this first phase.
Similar to other 3D printed buildings, such as the affordable homes built by 3D-printing company ICON, the school will be constructed through a machine-driven process that pipes out smooth layers of concrete-like material that cure to form the structure, including space for utilities, windows, and doors. According to a white paper produced by Thinking Huts and Studio Mortazavi, the 3D-printing approach will be cheaper than conventional construction, in addition to being more easily used in places that are either difficult to access or that have limited skilled labor.
“The goal is to make it self-sufficient,” says Mortazavi. The project will be both a model for Thinking Huts efforts and an educational opportunity to train technologists at the university to be able to lead the work on expansions and new iterations of the building. “We can leave the 3D printer with them, and they can 3D-print schools all across the country, as needed,” Mortazavi says.
He says this building approach is highly replicable, and he hopes his design can lead to node-based 3D-printed schools throughout Madagascar and beyond.
“We can use this as a case study,” Mortazavi says. “Then we can go to other countries around the world and train the local technologists to use the 3D printer and start a nonprofit there to be able to build schools.”