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3D-Printed Affordable Housing Coming to Iowa City

March 7th, 2023 | 6 min. read

3D-Printed Affordable Housing Coming to Iowa City

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Housing affordability has become an increasingly important issue for communities across the US. According to the US Census Bureau, 46% of American renters spent 30% or more of their income on housing in 2020. 23% spent at least 50% of their income in this way. 

Creating affordable housing requires creative solutions. In Iowa City, Better Together 2030 is partnering with Alquist 3D, Axiom Consultants, Hodge Construction, and Neumann Monson Architects to create a multiunit 3D-printed housing development. Construction is set to start in the summer of 2023. 

When complete, the project is expected to be the first multistory, multiunit 3D printed development in North America. 

At Neumann Monson, we are proud to take part in this project and excited to see the potential of 3D printing technology. This article will discuss the project in greater detail and describe some of the benefits of using 3D printing for construction. 

Project Background 

Founded by Zachary Mannheimer, Alquist 3D seeks to address the housing shortage by creating affordable, sustainable, and innovative 3D-printed homes. Although 3D printing technology has been around for years, its use in construction is relatively new. Startups like Alquist are driving the industry forward. 

Within the last five years, Alquist 3D has completed four homes in Virginia, with three built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity. In 2022, Mannheimer approached the City of Iowa City to discuss affordable housing. This meeting put him in contact with Better Together 2030, a local non-profit that developed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Better Together 2030 works to provide direction for Johnson County by focusing on five priorities: 

  • Sustainable environmental practices 
  • Authentic, vibrant neighborhoods and districts 
  • Transportation and internet access 
  • Inclusive economic development 
  • Human and social services 

The alignment between Alquist 3D’s focus on affordable housing and Better Together 2030’s mission led the two organizations to partner on the project. When complete, the project will provide six three-bedroom townhomes, four of which will be sold to residents at 60 to 80 percent of the area’s median income. 

How Does 3D Printing Work? 

Although 3D printing has many small-scale uses, 3D-printed construction projects are a more recent development. Its use is expected to expand dramatically over the next decade. 

The process is straightforward. A building’s design is put into a Building Information Modeling (BIM) system and sent to a 3D printer. After the printer receives the information, a robotic arm extrudes the building material. 

Concrete is the most common material for 3D-printed projects, but sustainable alternatives like Hempcrete may be used more as technology develops. 

On the Iowa City project, the printer will complete the exterior walls. All other work—including roofing, plumbing, electrical, and mechanical system installation—will be completed in a traditional manner with a contractor-led team.  

The Benefits of 3D Printing 

While 3D printing has yet to receive widespread adoption, its use offers many benefits. 

First, it is much faster than traditional construction methods. In an interview with the Gazette, Mannheimer says a one-story home of 1200 square feet can be printed in 20 to 25 hours. When scaled, the method is an efficient way to fulfill a housing shortage. 

3D-printed homes are also made from durable materials like concrete. These homes are more resilient than traditional wood-stick residential construction and better positioned to withstand natural disasters. 

Durable materials offer additional benefits to occupants. Concrete provides a greater amount of acoustic separation between interiors and exteriors, as well as more privacy between units. 

Despite the benefits, 3D printing faces some headwinds. The equipment is a sizable investment and requires trained operators. However, projects like the one in Iowa City help introduce more people in the construction industry to the technology and pave the way for future development. 

Explore Other Forward-Thinking Projects in Iowa 

Overcoming the affordable housing shortage requires creative, community-led initiatives. This project is an opportunity to test new technology and introduce more professionals to the possibilities of 3D printing. 

The project is only made possible through the collaboration of mission-focused organizations like Better Together 2030 and Alquist 3D. In our experience, the most successful building projects represent the shared vision of various community stakeholders.  

This was the case with the GuideLink Center in Iowa City. The project brought together medical professionals, law enforcement, and crisis service providers who shared a vision of creating a jail alternative. Learn more by reading about the project’s case study