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From 'Printed' Houses to Wooden Skyscrapers

The renewal of housing stock offers plenty of opportunities.

Published: March 20, 2014 (Issue # 1802)



  • Sited in Chicago, Michael Charters Big Wood aims to write a new chapter in high-rise construction.
    Photo: Michael Charters / Wikimedia Commons

  • 'Printed' houses may hold the key to the future of sustainable development.
    Photo: Osamu Iwasaki / FLICKR

Science parks around the world have been hailed as a way of enhancing their nations GDP.This may well be true in the long term, but novel science does not translate quickly into GDP and a general sense of well-being until years of trials have occurred. Science parks such as Skolkovo are one of the main drivers behind the Russian strategy through 2020, with technology and innovation fostering a growth in productivity. Yet with the route from pure science to innovation fraught with pitfalls, renovating existing housing stock may be a more homely way to elevate the lives of ordinary people. And this activity, which would be perceived as the government wishing to help all of its citizens, might do much more to raise the spirits of the innovators themselves than high-tech enclaves that seem far from ordinary life.

Modernizing the housing stock of European nations is important on two counts. Shoddily built after each of the world wars to poor building standards that do not permit easy upgrading to modern eco-standards, scientists have shown that Europes legacy buildings produce directly, or indirectly, 40 percent of global CO2.

Governments have an intensely costly puzzle to deal with and Russia is no exception in this respect. Working with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Russian Institute for Urban Economics reported in 2011 on the status of urban housing renewal, the potential opportunities and costs. Essentially, Russian building stock is old and urgently needs to be repaired or rebuilt. The authors also noted that Federal laws mandate high levels of energy efficiency but realities suggest three separate renovation routes: Basic, realistic and energy efficient, with the latter costing up to 4,000 rubles ($109) per square meter while offering savings of up to 28 percent on heating costs. In total, the government faces a bill of some 2.5 billion rubles ($68.24 million) to eliminate dilapidation and improve energy efficiency throughout the housing stock.

One potential solution is to print the houses. Not printing as in banknotes, but by extending this technique via the new technology called additive manufacturing. 3D printing has become established across many manufacturing sectors through all high-tech industries and to aerospace with its exacting requirements for strength and low weight in ever-larger single structures.

This increase of scale stimulated researchers at the University of Southern California to consider spraying thin films of concrete to build walls. Essentially they are doing little more than replacing traditional manual methods with robot-guided sprays. The thin films dry quickly without hidden, structure-weakening cavities and the surface finish is good. As in all 3D printing, the robots can spray complex shapes, with openings for doors, windows and pipework. Thermal insulation can be sprayed at the same time. All in all, this process is very fast and yields a superior product more cheaply than using craftsmen. Russian technicians could easily develop this system to re-build much of suburbia and, having gained experience, could export the methodology.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Thursday, Oct. 2


The celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Mikhail Lermontov continues with todays free exhibition in the citys Lermontov Library at 19 Liteiny Prospekt. Titled Under the Rustling Wings, the temporary exhibition will feature the costumes and scenery used in the 1917 production of Lermontovs play The Masquerade, which he wrote in 1835 when he was only 21 years old.



Friday, Oct. 3


Learn more about how to manage and evaluate employee performance during SPIBAs Human Resources Committee meeting this morning on Employee Assessment: Global and Local Trends. Starting at 9:30 a.m., the discussion will touch on such topics as the partnership between HR and business, reliable assessment strategies and more, with Tatiana Andrianova, the head of the SHL Russia and CIS branch in St. Petersburg, as the featured guest. Confirm your participation by Oct. 2 by emailing office@spiba.ru or calling 325 9091.


AmChams Procurement Committee Meeting is at 9 a.m. this morning in their office in the New St. Isaac Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.



Saturday, Oct. 4


Wine and cheese lovers will get their chance to revel during Scandinavia Country Club and Spas Wine Market Weekend. Going on today and tomorrow, wining diners can listen to live music, take part in culinary classes and, of course, sample a variety of fine wines from around the world. The cost of admission is 400 rubles ($10.30) for adults and 200 rubles ($5.15) for children.



Sunday, Oct. 5


Look for the latest fall fashions at the Autumn Market today in Freedom Anticafe at 7 Kazanskaya Ulitsa. The minimarket plans to offer clothes more flattering than the puffy jackets that are a staple of the citys cold-weather fashion, while offering the same amount of protection from the biting winds blowing off of the Baltic.



Monday, Oct. 6


SKA St. Petersburg, the citys KHL affiliate, welcomes Slovakian club HC Slovan in a match-up tonight at the Ice Palace near the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be purchased on the clubs website or in person at either the arenas box office or the clubs merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Oct. 7


Learn more about Russias energy industry at the St. Petersburg Energy Forum that begins today and runs through Oct. 10. Attracting industry experts and political and business representatives, the forum plans to welcome more than 350 plus companies and their representatives to discuss the future of Russias largest economic sector.



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