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.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.