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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, Aug. 28


Learn more about the citys upcoming municipal elections during the presentation of the project Road Map for the Municipal Elections being presented this evening in the conference hall on the third floor of Biblioteka at 21 Nevsky Prospekt. Steve Kaddins, a coordinator for Beautiful St. Petersburg, which gives residents an online forum to lodge complaints about infrastructure problems in the city, will be on hand to answer any questions. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to all.



Friday, Aug. 29


Park Pobedy will feature the sights and sounds of the world outside of Russia during the Open Art International Festival today. Taste foreign cuisine, learn how to make tea like the Chinese or relax in a hammock during the free event. Although entrance is free, you must register beforehand if you wish to attend.



Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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