Geographies in Depth

The affordable 3D-printed home that could transform African urbanization

14Trees are 3D printing homes and building walls in less than 12 hours.

A lack of safe, affordable housing can trap people in poverty. Building homes can end that while creating jobs and income. Image: CDC Group

Sean Fleming
Senior Writer, Formative Content
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Infrastructure

  • Every day around 40,000 people move to one of Africa's cities.
  • There is currently not enough housing stock to go round.
  • This company can 3D-print homes following an affordable, low-carbon process.
  • In Malawi, it has recently 3D-printed a home and a school.

There is a housing crisis taking place across many parts of Africa. Nigeria alone has an estimated shortfall of 17 million housing units. Part of the problem is that every day around 40,000 people relocate to one of Africa’s many vibrant, growing cities. But those cities are struggling to keep up with the demand for new homes, leaving many people with nowhere to live.

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) says the shortage is caused in part by a lack of development in the continent’s house-building industry. But that might be about to change with the availability of new technology and techniques that could speed up and streamline the building of homes.

No place like a 3D-printed home

The first 3D printed affordable house in Africa, with the walls printed in less than 12 hours.
The first 3D printed affordable house in Africa, with the walls printed in less than 12 hours. Image: LinkedIn/14Trees

A joint venture involving CDC Group – the UK government’s development finance institution – and the European building materials multinational LafargeHolcim, is 3D-printing houses and schools in a fraction of the time it would normally take.

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Called 14Trees, it has operations in Malawi and Kenya, and is able to build a 3D-printed house in just 12 hours at a cost of under $10,000. Its building process reduces CO2 emissions by as much as 70% when compared with a typical house-building project. It has also developed an online platform for the African diaspora, encouraging people to invest in a “home back home.”

The company’s first-ever affordable, 3D-printed home was built in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. 14Trees has also recently completed its first 3D-printed school, also in Malawi. Built in a fraction of the time a traditionally built school would take, it opened its doors to students on 21 June.

Tenbite Ermias, managing director of CDC Africa, said: “The rollout of 14Trees' world-class, cutting-edge technology is going to have a tremendous developmental impact on Malawi and the wider region. It is a wonderful example of how we are investing in businesses that can support the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.”

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Meeting a global need

Much of Africa has been experiencing rapid urbanization in recent decades. “As of 2015, 50% of Africa’s population lived in one of 7,617 urban agglomerations,” says a report from the US-based Brookings Institute.

Growth of urban populations across six African regions
Growth of urban populations across six African regions Image: Brookings Institute

But it’s not only in Africa where 3D house printing is promising to revolutionize the homes people live in. In the Mexican state of Tabasco, a collaboration between Mexican and US businesses has helped create the world’s first 3D-printed neighbourhood. Built to withstand floods, earthquakes and other natural disasters, the 50 homes have two bedrooms, a living room, plus a kitchen and bathroom.

The technique is also being used in the United States and Europe to create unique homes for private buyers and to help alleviate the problem of homelessness. Meanehile in India, the country’s first 3D-printed home was completed in five days in the city of Chennai.

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The 14Trees building projects are one example of public-private cooperation helping to create jobs as well as housing across Africa. The IFC is working with a Chinese multinational construction and engineering company, CITIC Construction, and plans to build 30,000 homes over a five-year period by partnering with local businesses across Africa, and estimates that each housing unit will create five full-time positions, equating to 150,000 new jobs in all.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to promote sustainable urban development?

“As sub-Saharan Africa becomes more urbanized, the private sector can help governments meet the critical need for housing”, Oumar Seydi, IFC Director for Eastern and Southern Africa writes on the IFC website. “The platform will help transform Africa’s housing markets by providing high quality, affordable homes, creating jobs, and demonstrating the viability of the sector to local developers.”

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Related topics:
Geographies in DepthUrban Transformation
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