On the outskirts of Bologna, Italy, a team of engineers are putting the finishing touches on an unusual, dome-shaped dwelling. But unlike most construction sites, here you’ll find no scaffolding, steel or concrete in sight. In their place, two towering cranes mechanically place layers upon layers of clay in a careful, undulating pattern. The project is called TECLA, and once completed, it will be the first house to be entirely 3D printed using the oldest of building materials: raw earth. 

Designed by Mario Cucinella Architects and fabricated by WASP (Italy’s pioneering specialists in 3D printing), TECLA offers a new model of housing for the circular economy. It is the culmination of years of research and development, and represents a milestone in the move towards more sustainable housing solutions. Never before have multiple 3D printers been synchronized to run simultaneously on a single structure. Each unit has a printing area of 50 square meters, making it possible to synthesize the entire building in just 200 hours. This cutting-edge technology transforms the construction process, saving time and minimizing the need for resources and energy. And by using locally sourced clay – a biodegradable, natural material, as opposed to something like plastic – TECLA is also effectively zero-waste. 

The result is a house which feels both futuristic and deeply inspired by nature. The design features two cocoon-like modules, which provide structure, roofing and external cladding at the same time. The thick clay walls are structured like hollow envelopes, making them relatively lightweight, resilient and insulating. Meanwhile, skylights make the most of natural light, and allow for ventilation.

As more units are built, the designs can be adjusted to accommodate the needs of different climates. According to the manufacturers, the construction process can be replicated using the Maker Economy Starter Kit, an open-source manual which is now available online. The kit includes models of WASP’s various 3D printers along with insights on how to pick, mix and pump different materials. 

Ultimately, the hope is for TECLA to inspire a new generation of eco-housing around the world, allowing communities to create clusters of low-impact homes quickly and easily. With urban populations expected to balloon in the coming decades, innovations like these will be sorely needed. To learn more about the research behind the technology, and how you can apply it to your own projects, visit WASP’s website.

All images by Mario Cucinella Architects and WASP.