Every day, over 40,000 Africans move from rural regions to vibrant, growing cities to access improved facilities and economic growth. However, throughout the continent, countries are facing infrastructure shortages. In light of this, the U.K.-based CDC Group and the multinational materials distributor LafargeHolcim, have formed a joint venture called 14Trees to help meet increasing demands via sustainable building solutions.

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Aerial view of the red school building with children seated outside facing forwards to a teacher

The project utilizes 3D printing technology to provide rapidly-built yet sturdy infrastructure that reduces construction costs, building time and carbon emissions. Through the use of 3D printers, the walls and vertical structures are extruded. Meanwhile, the local building team can focus its efforts on the installation of doors and windows, as well as interior finishes. 14Trees has already printed a house and a school in Malawi and has plans to expand its reach into other East African countries, beginning with Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Related: Habitat for Humanity develops its first 3D-printed home in US

14Trees’ 3D printed prototype house is located in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, and cost less than $10,000 to build. The walls were fabricated within 12 hours, a fraction of the time of traditional construction, which could take up to four days for a house of the same size. Besides the lowered costs and assembly time of these 3D-printed buildings, the use of optimized materials reduces carbon emissions by up to 70%. Since over 50% of Africa’s population lives in urban agglomerations, this construction method could be used as an eco-friendly, more affordable alternative for densely populated pockets in a city’s urban fabric.

A group of women singing and clapping in with the red school building and students in the background

While houses are high in demand, the need for schools is also increasing. In Malawi alone, UNICEF estimates a shortage of 36,000 classrooms. While this could take 70 years to build using conventional construction methods, 14Trees estimates that 3D printing could complete this in 10 years, saving time, resources and energy.

14Trees’ new 3D-printed school in Malawi’s Salima district took a mere 18 hours to construct. The school is operational as of late June 2021 and provides a durable, sheltered environment that the community was lacking. The space allows for teaching to occur both inside and outside the classroom. Its unique design can also attract students who had previously dropped out of school to rejoin for better facilities.

A woman holding hands with her child wearing a white 14Trees t-shirt

In addition to environmental benefits and cost-efficiency, the 3D printing construction process also provides economic opportunities for communities. Alongside jobs for carpenters, electricians, painters and other builders, local engineers can train to become material specialists and operate 3D extruding technology.

By adopting 3D printing construction systems, NGOs and contractors throughout Africa can make use of multi-level sustainable solutions to combat infrastructure challenges brought about by urbanization.

+14Trees

Via CDC Group and World Economic Forum

Images from 14Trees/Homeline media