Recent years have seen an outpouring of 3D-printed structures, including homes made of coiled clay and looped, stackable bricks, and now, researchers from the University of Virginia put a lively spin on the innovative technique. For an ongoing project within the School of Architecture, assistant professor Ehsan Baharlou and his team mixed seeds into earthen building materials that, once layered into walls, sprout lush plant life and evoke a Chia Pet aesthetic.
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At this stage, the technology has been tested on smaller domes and walls, although once scaled up, it has the potential to naturally insulate buildings, soak up excess water that could lead to flooding, create green space for urban critters, and even be carbon negative, as the succulents sequester carbon from the surrounding environment. “We are working with local soils and plants mixed with water; the only electricity we need is to move the material and run a pump during printing. If we don’t need a printed piece or if it isn’t the right quality, we can recycle and re-use the material in the next batch of inks,” Baharlou said in a statement. The idea, he told Dezeen, is to establish “an active ecological system that might store emitted carbon in 3D-printed soil structures through the process of photosynthesis.”
In the coming months, the team plans to expand the capacities of the process to create more expansive structures and address the cracks that occur in the soil when produced on a larger scale.