Smart Bricks: Giant Lego-like blocks for buildings

You can salvage ordinary bricks from demolished houses. This is being done for centuries.

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Frankly, the lugs with holes in the top of each brick look like they’d be prone to breakage unless this was very high compression concrete. And there’s no way that those flat surfaces could be built without some form of reinforcing. And without filling the insides with something this is going to be poorly insulated. .


Is there a body-collecting bot and an EMP-bot to keep it all off the Web, too?

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You know, you have good ideas for aftermarket add-ons… (Thought: special hollow coffin-style blocks for putting into the foundations.)

And you WANT it on the web. The more people knowing the results of getting too close, the fewer will try, and the less you spend on ammo.

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The Heiniken WOBO was a beer bottle designed for use as a building block in places like Australia and islands where lumber was unavailable but beer was imported. The bottles would be used as building material rather than being discarded.


Prefabricated wall panels? That would be the Lustron house of enameled steel panels. This design found its greatest success in gleaming white prefabricated gas stations

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Until some bastard comes along and steals your house :smiley:

What’s wrong with it? According to what I saw on wikipedia, it is a straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense architectural style,

These blocks are on the high-end in size for injection molding, but, yes, I agree that would be the most practical for parts in such large numbers. I think the body of the Sinclair C5 electric vehicle from 1985 still holds the record as largest injection molded item. I was actually referring to the plate elements of the fly’s eye dome which have usually been made by press forming or the layered forming of fiberglass.

But there is one kind of block that has been interesting me lately that 3D printing may actually be the only viable way to produce; geodetic lattice modules. There’s been a lot of interest lately in housing made by CNC and one of the leading approaches for that is a block module system promoted by Facit Homes. Other approaches to housing made by CNC are usually based on puzzle-fit construction using stressed skin structures. But with this system large modules are made from plywood as prefabbed box units that bolt together to form the structure and then are finished conventionally. Sort of like oversized SIPs. They are still pretty heavy elements to haul and carry around and, though certainly adequately strong as used, are not monolithic. Geodetic structures use a small scale triangulated lattice to fill space and form larger shapes. They offer tremendous strength-to-weight performance and would afford the use of a variety of materials. But we’ve always been very limited in how we could make such structures, until 3D printing came along. Now we have this prospect of 3D printing such geodetic modules to make housing-scale elements that could be carried and assembled by just one person while not needing quite as much labor (human or robot) as laying out thousands of bricks. Something similar to this is being explored with the Kamermaker Canal House project, though there the modules are limited to corrugated structures.

It’s really amazing all the possibilities for fabrication, design, and building that are opening up today.

citation please :wink:

I’ll just let the plentiful photos here speak. :stuck_out_tongue:

I am failing to imagine the kind of lattice modules that could not be moulded. (Pictures, links?) Modern moulds have amazing possibilities, and for adequate cost premium you can have multipart ones that assemble/disassemble at each machine cycle. (Inner threads are fairly expensive because the inserts have to be screwed out and that is complicated, for example.)

If you mean internal lightweight structures, what about a hybrid approach? Moulded thin skin, and then filled with some foam-up material (styrofoam, polyurethane…)? Hold it in a mould (not the heavy injection kind, just a don’t-inflate-from-internal-pressure one), inject with the second materal, let it foam up in-situ? This could produce fairly large and still very lightweight components.

3D printing is nice and versatile but so far it is rather s-l-o-w. For large runs of identical components, alternatives are more suitable.

These pictures show the sort of lattice structures I’m talking about;

The key thing here is that these are monolithic, contiguous material. This affords properties not possible with composites that are bound by adhesives and have varying thermal coefficients. They behave like solid materials of extraordinary low mass.

Certainly, such things are slow to produce right now and limited in size, but that’s not necessarily a permanent situation.

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These are amazing.

However, is the added value in areas where weight is not a High Premium (e.g. orbital structures, space probes, aircraft…) worth the added cost? Can we achieve something similar-enough by conventional polymer (or metal, for metal shells) foams, possibly injected to a moulded shell, maybe even coinjected in a single operation?

A common way to make composite structures with metal cores and shells is brazing. With diffusion brazing you can even get rid of the joint. With plastics, ultrasonic welding is an option, or, if at least one part is transparent, infrared laser welding (a nice trick is coating one side of the inner joint with near-IR absorbing dye, and then the laser melts the material only in the joint itself, from inside). But even these techniques are expensive and better avoided if you have a comparable cheaper way…

I think brutalism was really cool when it was really rare. I’m not sure what year that was, some time in the 1940’s I think.

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Right at this moment, expensive high-performance structural technologies probably aren’t worth it for simple applications like housing. But I think there is a future context where this could be the case. I think there are long-term trends in favor of ‘mobilism’. In particular, the fact that Global Warming is expected to put a couple billion people on the move over the next couple of a decades and our system for housing doesn’t know how to deal with that. And so there’s an emerging trend in favor of more Ikea-like design and another toward a progressive decoupling of the value of housing from the value of land.

Today there’s no technical reason why a whole house can’t be built by one unskilled person in a short amount of time. But for that to be possible the engineering has to become ‘embedded’ or ‘integral’ to the building system the way it is with the components of computers. In the industrialized world as much as 80% of the cost of a home is labor. This is why this lego-like building system makes most sense when combined with robots–or, similarly, in programmed block strings as with the ideas for using programable matter blocks where buildings sort of ‘knit’ themselves together;

With labor cost so extreme, anywhere high performance structure can replace labor, replace skill, put the end-user more in control, and let them leverage sweat equity is going to have a cost benefit justifying higher materials costs. So a house built like a space station–ultra-light super-strong modular parts–can make sense in terms of making a house low-labor and DIY. This was a key idea for Buckminster Fuller, who anticipated this labor cost situation long before it really became a critical issue in the US.

Now, it’s a different story in the developing world where the economics of housing tends to be reversed such that materials costs are greater than labor costs. Low-cost housing solutions don’t work the same everywhere. So, in places like India, high labor earth block housing like they develop at Auroville is very practical because it’s employing cheap materials while minimizing skill. The space station approach or the use of robots wouldn’t make as much sense in that context.

The term mobilism was coined by designer Ken Isaacs in the 70s to refer to a lifestyle that seeks sustainability through seasonal nomadism. The idea was that people–empowered by new communication technology making work locations less important–could adopt multiple homes in locations optimal for each season and move between them so as to reduce the energy and material overhead of living. Compensating for Winter doesn’t make a lot of sense if you have free mobility. The problem with this is that having a whole conventional home in each of these locations is not practical and so mobilism demanded a new domestic habitat strategy where one’s stuff was divided between that which was easily mobile or disposable and that which was heavy, hard to move, resilient, and could be left behind. Generally, what you left behind was the durable weather and vandal resistant ‘backplane’ of a home and you moved with you the light stuff that wasn’t resilient and more key to comfort.

A new mobilism is emerging today that is driven by the decreasing reliability of jobs, increasing demand for mobility with work, and the increasing impacts from Global Warming. People move more frequently than ever before in history. And, luckily, more of our standard of living is being based on virtual rather than physical goods. But we also want more personalization. Houses are renovated more frequently than ever before–generating a lot of land-fill waste in the process. Growing impact from climate change is changing the liveability of some places and increasing incidence of natural disaster. There are two ways to deal with that. You can try to make the home into a costly fortress resisting the change around it, or you can do what the ancient Japanese and Polynesians did and make the home easy to replace, move, and adapt. I think that latter option will probably win-out, and it’s impact will be to decouple housing value from land value, precluding runaway gentrification because we will increasingly see the house as disposable or mobile whole, or like an appliance, or a generic backplane we outfit by retrofit. And so I see a future where housing is increasingly like furniture–I like to call it furnitecture–highly mobile, deployable, and plugged into increasingly generic infrastructure backplanes. I see this particularly in the urban environment where commercial buildings have long been functionally generic and, with the ‘lofting’ movement and increasing adaptive reuse that has slowly penetrated into the sensibility of urban residence. We see this hinted at in projects like SCADpad;

Structurally, office buildings, apartment buildings, and even houses may become indistinguishable because it no longer makes sense for them to assume one purpose or configuration in their lifetime. They will all be outfit by retrofit. This favors that high-tech approach where light weight improves portability and high performance simplifies structure for easier end-user deployment. An economy home should be very PC-like. The house built to last a century is making less sense now that we renovate like crazy and can’t be sure about the situation around it being viable that long.

So that’s where I’m coming from with this line of thinking–looking 20 years out. In the meantime, I think you are quite right in suggesting the use of composite materials with foam. That’s doable right now and can fit many of the same roles. Certainly, the existing CNC based housing demonstrates this. I think CNC based construction is going to become mainstream well before 3D printing can, in large part because it can hide behind the sheetrock. New housing technology that can’t disguise itself as conventional tends not to do well–tends to get ‘damned’ by being associated with specific designs and economic classes and banned from communities. This is what happened to the mobile home.

Composites with foams do improve on performance even though the foam itself isn’t particularly high-performing. A SIP is certainly outperforming a conventional stick frame wall section because, by providing a continuous bond, it’s maximizing the performance of its OSB materials and greatly reducing labor cost by being physically simpler. The geodetic lattice will still be at a whole higher performance level. Composites also have a recylcability problem. SIPs generally end up as land fill and, though we do know how to make them compostable now, we still don’t normally do it. Geodetic lattices, being one contiguous material, can be fully recycled or made wholly compostable. For instance, we have these biodegradeable wood-like 3D printing plastics made of recycled sawdust. (a bit rare and expensive right now, but getting there) You could grind a whole house down and compost it.

To be honest, it’s hard to say how geodetic structures and 3D printing will pan-out, but I think it’s interesting enough to be worth exploring.

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If you think labor costs are extreme, you obviously aren’t labor. Long ago, business owners believed a living wage was a moral issue. Cf: Henry Ford.

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