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Will Dubai spark a trend for 3D printed offices?

3D printing has already opened up a world of possibility in the manufacturing sector – and now the construction industry is starting to explore just what the technology could mean for our cities.

Dubai, a city which is already home to the world’s tallest building, will soon boast the world’s first fully functional 3D printed office, built in partnership with Chinese company WinSun Global.

Using a six meter tall printer, the constituent parts of the prototype building will be created layer by layer through a mixture of reinforced concrete, glass fiber reinforced gypsum and fiber reinforced plastic.

The finished products will then be assembled to make a building measuring around 185 square meters at a busy intersection in the middle of Dubai. And for good measure all the furniture used inside will also be made by the 3D printer.

“This building will be a testimony to the efficiency and creativity of 3D printing technology, which we believe will play a major role in reshaping construction and design sectors,” says Mohammed al-Gergawi, the United Arab Emirates’ minister of Cabinet affairs.

It’s a project which once again highlights Dubai’s ever-evolving design credentials. Alan Robertson, CEO of the Middle East and North Africa region at JLL, says: “Dubai has carved out a reputation as a leader in creating buildings that push the boundaries of design from the soaring Burj Khalifa to the distinctive silhouette of the Burj Al Arab hotel. The prospect of the world’s first fully functional 3D printed office building will only support Dubai’s aspiration to become a global hub for innovation and 3D printing.”

Innovations with big potential

The project also shows how technological innovations are starting to impact on the construction industry. The team behind the 3D office estimates that 3D printing could slash building time by between 50 and 70 percent, reduce labor costs by between 50 and 80 percent and cut construction waste by 30 to 60 percent.

Graham Coutts, International Director, Strategic Consulting, Asia Pacific at JLL, says that while the idea of 3D printing for buildings is very much in its infancy, it opens up future possibilities for dealing with global housing challenges.

“It could have significant benefits for housing in remote locations or providing shelter in response to emergencies like earthquakes and typhoons by providing a quick and cheap solution. Also it could help to provide mass, standardized low cost housing in much of the developing – and developed world – in response to ongoing population growth and urbanization,” he says.

Earlier this year, WinSun unveiled a five-storey apartment building and a 1,100 square meter villa both made from construction waste in China. It follows on from its previous feat of creating ten single-storey 3D printed homes, each costing $5,000, in 24 hours last year. WinSun Global is now reportedly planning to set up factories in more than 20 countries to focus on producing affordable housing for the Middle East and Africa.

The future of 3D printing for office buildings is though less compelling, Coutts says. “I do not foresee use of 3D printing to construct entire high rise office buildings anytime soon. Office buildings tend to be predominantly in Central Business Districts where remoteness and access to materials and labor are less of an issue, and where confined sites, density and tenant needs preclude mass standardization.

“In the commercial office sector, the biggest application may, however, be in being able to print predesigned components, particularly intricate assemblies which are difficult to make in situ,” he concludes.​​

This article originally appeared on Real Views, JLL's news site that features stories exploring the world of real estate and its impact on the wider business world. Visit the Real Views site to subscribe for our weekly email of top stories, delivered direct to your inbox.