An architect’s drawing of the finished house. Credit: DUS
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A 3D printer is building a canalhouse in Amsterdam

Need a house? Just hit Ctrl+P.

Building a house is quite the production. There’s the time, the expense, the dust, and the leftover building materials that hang around in the garden for years after the builders clear off.

Unless, that is, you print it. From its home in a Dutch shipping container, a giant 3D printer, the KamerMaker (“room builder”), is currently spurting out globs of molten bioplastic to form walls. The honeycomb-esque design leaves room for pipes and wiring to be installed later.

KamerMaker is the brainchild of Amsterdam-based DUS Architects, which is using it to build a 15m high, 6m wide house on the banks of a canal in the city. The house’s 13 rooms will be printed individually and slotted together to form each floor; the floors will then be stacked on top of each other to create the final building. The whole thing’s a bit like giant, inhabitable lego. Construction kicked off on 1 March, and the house should be finished in, er, three years’ time. You can see their rendering of the finished building above – just don't ask us what the weird ghost buildings on either side are about. 

So, if the process is still so slow, what exactly are the advantages of printing a house? For a start, there’s no waste, as the printer uses raw materials and only prints what’s needed; plastic waste from other industries can be recycled as “ink”. As long as a house can be printed near its final location, transport costs are low. And this prototype has no foundation, so that’ll cut down on costs, too. (Although a team is currently on the problem of how to stop it toppling into the canal once it’s constructed; the current plan is to fix it in place with long metal poles.) When it’s no longer needed, the building can be shredded and its materials reused.

Hans Vemeulen, the project’s co-founder, told UrbanLand magazine that he was inspired by our need for ever-faster building strategies: “We need a rapid building technique to keep pace with the growth of megacities.” This seems a little improbable given that this first project will take three years to complete, but Vemeulen claims rooms could be printed on the printer and installed in the space of 24 hours. The project’s website also claims that we’ll soon be downloading and personalising designs for our dream house, then sending them to a KarmerMaker contractor to print and construct.

DUS aren’t the first company to print out properties. Win Sun, a Chinese firm, claimed back in April to have printed 10 buildings in one day using concrete and waste materials, although local building regulations prohibit printing structures of more than one storey. Technologies like this could certainly be of use in constructing shelters after natural disasters, or during refugee crises. Whether the rest of us will ever be happy to live in a plastic house, however good the view of the canal, remains to be seen.

This is a preview of our new sister publication, CityMetric. We'll be launching its website soon - in the meantime, you can follow it on Twitter and Facebook.

Barbara Speed is comment editor at the i, and was technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman, and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era