LA’s first legal 3-D-printed home is here. It was built by students in just 15 months

A small but very eye-catching house sits next to a large dorm building on the edge of the Woodbury University campus in Burbank. The 425-square-foot house is captured by a gently curved concrete form adorned with a generous balcony and a dramatic sloping roof. Narrow, carefully staggered floor-to-ceiling windows softly illuminate the interior.

It is a wonderful piece of architecture. What makes it truly remarkable is who made it – and how.

The Solar Future House, as it’s officially known, was designed by Woodbury Architecture students and made of concrete using the latest 3-D printing technology. According to Woodbury Architecture Dean Heather Flood, this is the first such approved structure in the city of Los Angeles. And it was built by Emergent, a 3-D printing manufacturing company based in Redding. (A quick geography explainer: While Woodbury has a Burbank address, part of the campus, where the house was built, is within Los Angeles city limits—so LA permits.)

Most notable is how quickly the project was implemented. “It was 15 months of design, going through the permitting process with the city, working with the printing company and dealing with 14 atmospheric storms,” ​​said Kishani De Silva, chair of Woodbury’s construction management program, who served as faculty lead on the project. Came to life on 12th. … The students literally graduated the next day.”

15 months from design to near completion? In bureaucratic Los Angeles, that counts as too close miraculous.

Woodbury student Sergio Santos, second from right, joins Woodbury faculty and administrators Kishani De Silva, left, Heather Flood and Aaron Gensler in front of the Solar Future House.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Certainly, it helped that the students were collaborating with municipal experts from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, the Bureau of Engineering and a nonprofit clean tech incubator at the Department of Water and Power — organizations that could help navigate the red tape. But at a time when our region is plagued by housing and homelessness crises, it’s still a model worth testing.

To be clear, the house is not 100% complete – although it is very close. Some interior areas still need drywall and some exterior features and landscaping remain unfinished. Additionally, the building will require a certificate of occupancy from the LA Department of Building and Safety.

But it’s an impressive design, which achieves a lot in a small space.

Layers of 3-D-printed concrete give the walls a geological look, and the curved shape and high ceiling prevent this closely scaled studio from feeling like a shoebox. Additionally, the covered porch and living room are connected by a sliding door; Open it up and the space will feel big and airy.

A view of a studio apartment space with a sleeping area at the front and a gently curving kitchen at the back

A combined living/sleeping space in the foreground leads to an open kitchen/dining space in Woodbury University’s Solar Future House.

(Carolina A. Miranda/Los Angeles Times)

And, true to its name, it is a structure that prioritizes environmental concerns.

The Solar Future House began as an entry in the Solar Decathlon, a national collegiate competition hosted by the US Department of Energy that encourages emerging designers to create high-performance structures powered by renewable energy.

In the spring of 2022, a class of Woodbury students submitted a design proposal and was selected as one of 14 finalists to receive a $50,000 grant for construction. By the fall of 2013, the group had disbanded.

The framework they proceeded to create was all about efficiency. Shower water is recirculated to flush the toilet. The house’s curved form and sloping roof are designed to respond to the angle of the sun throughout the year, thereby maximizing solar energy production. Currently, the structure features a solar array on the roof, making the building net zero (meaning no additional electricity is needed to power the home). Add another and it becomes net-positive, supplying power to the grid.

The angled roof is made of a reflective, resin-coated metal and sits atop 9 inches of mineral wool insulation, which helps conserve the building’s interior temperature and buffer exterior noise. (Woodbury’s campus sits next to the 5 freeway, but amid the double-layer concrete walls, triple-glazed windows and insulation, the house feels peaceful.) Mineral wool insulation also acts as a fire barrier—addressing another environmental concern in California.

To reduce the use of concrete, which is carbon-intensive, the team developed a formula that contains a high percentage of fly ash, making it more sustainable. The precise nature of 3-D printing means that no concrete is wasted.

This new construction method allowed rapid construction of the building’s two-layer walls: de Silva estimates that printing took about three days. This allows students to play with the form. In a traditional stick-build structure, a 90-degree angle is the most efficient way to meet walls. But 3-D printing allows for more flexible shapes; Hence the curved walls, which give the room a more organic feel. Take the bathroom: Designed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s a no-brainer—it’s tucked into an attractive round room that also includes laundry facilities.

A view of a bathroom area with a gently curved wall made of narrow horizontal ridges of concrete

A bathroom with curved walls in the Solar Future House is attractive, space-efficient — and meets ADA standards.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Naturally, DOE’s grant does not cover all costs.

Flood estimates that the budget for the home is currently about $250,000, including in-kind support and donated services from neighborhood organizations. LA-based Nous Engineering joined the structural work, while Torrance’s Breen Design Group helped with the mechanical systems; Mitsubishi Electric donated an HVAC system and Ikea provided furniture.

The Solar Future House is a remarkable achievement — especially considering that Woodbury is a small school (with fewer than 1,000 undergraduates) and its accredited architecture program is relatively new, founded in 1994. The university primarily serves students from Southern California, many of whom are Latino, making it a designated Hispanic-serving institution. (The school plays an important role in diversifying the area, since the architecture is overwhelmingly white.)

Two dozen students have worked at the Solar Future House for two academic years, rotating in and out of the project as part of their coursework. But many of them managed to see it through from start to finish, including Karin Nazarian and Jade Roeder; Sergio Santos was able to work at home throughout his final year.

A bed, armoire, and chair are featured in front of a 3-D-printed concrete wall that has an almost geological texture.

A daybed in the Solar Future House can serve multiple functions.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Solar future house will soon be livable; University administrators are debating how it might be used. Possibilities include a guest house for the speaker or a residence for a housing-insecure student.

Whatever its ultimate purpose, the home will continue to serve as an educational tool. “This is a prototype for a method of design and construction and the actual size and form may vary,” Flood said. “It can adapt to different site conditions. You can nest multiple units together in a way that takes advantage of structural efficiency.” (Construction companies have already begun building two-story structures using 3-D printing technology.)

Woodbury students will be able to take this basic idea and run with it, refining and adapting it to the needs of other constituencies, such as seniors.

The house may be almost complete, but the ideas that informed it are just beginning to take off.

To learn more about Solar Future House and any upcoming public events, visit the project website here

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