3D-Printing Can Solve Some Serious Schooling Concerns

In late February 2021, Studio Mortazavi, an architectural design agency with offices in San Francisco, Lisbon, and Paris, announced that it was gearing up to construct a 3D-printed school from concrete and readily available extras in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar.

3D-printing, also called additive manufacturing, is a digital process: files build solid objects layer by layer, eradicating extraneous waste that may often occur during traditional school construction.

The project was the brainchild of Amir Mortazavi, the founder of Studio Mortazavi and one of the co-founders of Thinking Huts, a non-profit organisation that uses innovative, humanitarian-driven tech solutions to close the global opportunity gap.

Says Mortazavi, ‘We envision a future where quality education is accessible via 3D-printed schools. We considered seven countries for our first 3D-printed school. Madagascar will be our pilot’s location based upon the need for education infrastructure, a stable political outlook in an emerging economy, and opportunity for growth, as well as renewable energy potential .’

Thinking Huts board member Asif Khan stated in a press release: ‘Thinking Huts has the potential to transform education for millions globally, using 3D technology to design and develop schools will significantly improve access to quality education for underserved communities.

Studio Mortazavi, Finnish 3D technology company Hyperion Robotics, and Thinking Huts are currently fundraising so that construction can start in July or August 2021.

The school will be made from a 3D-printed concrete aggregate to create multi-functional pods. The incorporation of recycled materials into the pod infrastructure will reduce CO2 emissions. The roof will be made of galvanised metal covered with locally sourced grass.

Initially, there will be only one level to the campus of the 3D-printed schools called Ecole de Management et d’Innovation Technologique (EMIT) in Fianarantsoa.

Says Mortazavi, ‘Since the 3D printer is limited in terms of the diameter it can print, the pod technique is the most efficient way to be flexible and to be able to grow as needed.’ The school will thus be able to custom design classrooms, science laboratories and dance studios. A relief pattern reflecting the local landscape will decorate the walls.

Mortazavi says that a great deal of planning and thought went into the use of 3D-printing as a construction method. Two of the reasons for choosing 3D technologies to build the school were to minimise building time and costs, as 3D printing is much faster than traditional construction times. 3D-printing can produce a schools within a matter of days and greatly reduced carbon emissions.

‘We considered printing constraints and capabilities, the vernacular architecture of Madagascar, and geometric shapes that are the most conducive for creating modular pods. ‘We began with trying various different pod configurations using circles, hexagons, pentagons and octagons, and decided on a hybrid between a purely faceted shape and an organic shape.’ Eventually the design team decided on one concave, one convex and two straight sides, because this design suited the surroundings and was scaleable.

For extra insulation, two slim exterior cement walls will surround the structure. The handsome pattern that will emblazon the exterior walls will also be the result of 3D-printing. Another plus is that the exterior walls will serve as climbing walls for the students, and planting pockets so that students and teachers can plant vertical gardens.

Solar panels, water catchment systems, energy-efficient lighting, and compostable toilets will also render the school architecturally and educationally superior.

In Salima, Malawi, cement group LafargeHolcim and UK development financier, CDC Group (they have called their collaboration ‘14Trees’), used the 3D-printing method to build a school in December, 2020 in 18 hours. 14Trees joined with Danish manufacturer Cobod to oversee the print in conjunction with local Malawians.

The United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has estimated that there is a shortage of about 36 000 classrooms in Malawi. 14Trees estimates that about 40 000 classrooms could easily be 3D-pinted within a decade.

Henrik Lund-Nielsen, founder, and general manager of Cobod, said: ‘The shortage of affordable housing and schools in Africa is overwhelming and we do believe, that our technology can play a vital role in solving this, not at least by increasing the speed of execution.’

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan are just three countries where there simply aren’t enough classrooms to hold all the students who want to learn. This fact has emerged from research undertaken by the Central Asia Institute researchers, who travel deep into rural areas to hear people’s concerns about education.

Many schools in these countries also need to be rebuilt. In Tajikistan, for example, Berdov Farhodbek, the director of Pish School says

The condition here is bad. Bad sanitary and hygiene conditions which affect the health of the schoolchildren. The classrooms are dark, no floor, no roof, and children have problems with kidneys and lungs. The windows and doors and the building itself do not meet the construction standards.