3D House printer in action. (Source: Iowa State University)

Iowa State University is working on a project to create 3D printed houses for a rural community in the state ravaged by flooding. 

In December, the university announced it has received a $1.4 million grant from The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) for the ISU College of Design’s 3D Affordable Innovative Technologies (3D AIT) Housing Project. When fully funded, it is estimated to be $2.14 million.

The project is meant to address the issue of affordable housing in rural communities, said Pete Evans, assistant professor of industrial design. 

“One of the things that we are seeing now, even with Covid, is there’s reverse migration from urban centers, where technology and the ability to be distant or remote is something that allows people to now look back to the rural countryside,” Evans said in an interview with The Daily Yonder. “So that’s kind of an interesting pivot, and has exacerbated the affordable housing market.”

One study has shown that since the pandemic began, people are less interested in staying in urban areas, but the  Pew Research Center study showed the number of people wishing to live in rural areas has remained virtually unchanged. 

Still, rural housing issues are often overlooked across the nation, said Luis Rico-Gutierrez, dean of the College of Design, in a statement. 

“For Iowa State, they are central to our priorities as a land-grant institution,” Rico-Gutierrez said. “This funding allows us to address all aspects of the process, from planning to developing new building codes through construction and the impact on the quality of our lives.”

The team will work on a 40-unit development in Hamburg, Iowa, in 2022 as part of the community’s recovery efforts from 2019 flooding.

Sheryl Owen is city clerk for Hamburg. She said after the 2019 flooding, the community lost 63 homes. 

“Hamburg is mostly low to moderate income families,” she told The Daily Yonder. “In order to maintain our community, we need to have affordable housing. Having affordable housing would give young families a reason to move and work here and put their children in our school district. It would help build our community back even stronger. The future is our young people so we must have affordable housing.” 

Additionally, a workforce development curriculum will be developed in conjunction with Iowa Central Community College to train future workers in advanced home construction.

“While we’re doing the [research and development] on the material development, and the actualization of a house, we’re going to be developing a curriculum for the workforce, so the workforce can start to transition and support this. And that is going to be the team that’s going to take this down to Hamburg, Iowa, and use that for the construction to be able to get that delivered,” Evans said. 

According to Evans, when the demonstration homes are completed and the educational and training programs are also advanced and ready for students, it will help to rapidly scale this program across the state.

“This idea is worth exploring for both general development and emergency housing,” he said. “The primary need we are trying to address is affordable housing. The advanced methods promise to go faster with less labor more efficiently. We should be able to address both general and emergency housing if the promise actualizes here in Iowa.”

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