Quick-fix solution to mass housing
S Madhusudhana Rao
China will never cease to make the world wonder about its technological prowess in almost every field. The latest wonder is 3-D printed villas. Using that technology, a Chinese company has built a two-storey villa in less than three hours! The claim is like one of those Ripley’s Believe it or Not anecdotes. They appear fictitious, but true. Similarly, a house in a few hours is like building a huge structure with Lego blocks. The only difference between the two is what the Chinese had built was a real livable villa with wiring, plumbing, interiors, and all other facilities whereas what one could build in such a short time was a toy house. However, the underlying principle is the same: assembly of blocks with precision and speed according to a plan.
A Chinese company is reported to have put together, with the help of a crane, a ready-to-occupy home in less than three hours in Xian, Shanxi province in northwest China, on July 17. Modules of living room, bed room, kitchen and rest room had been made earlier in a factory using 3-D printing technology.
Normally, it would take about six months in China to build such a villa with traditional materials and methods. But, with the help of 3-D technology, Chinese were able to cut short that period to just about 10-12 days, according to project engineer. The days required to build the house were further shortened into a few hours by adopting pre-fabricated structural modules. Even if they were readymade, we should admit that it was a record of sorts. For, it would take a few days or weeks, if not months, if such a modular ready-to-assemble house was to be built in this country.
The company that has built the villa has claimed it is cost effective because most of the materials used are recycled waste and has saved substantially on transport, labour, machinery, etc. In other words, it is seen as an efficient and economical way to build houses for the masses.
In fact, the villa is a ‘toy house’ when compared to skyscrapers the Chinese had built in a matter of a few days. A couple of months back, a Chinese construction company had shocked the world by claiming it built a 57-storey skyscraper in just 19 days. The company had said the Mini Sky City in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, had 800 apartments and work space for 4,000. Using modular construction method, the company had said, it completed three floors per day.
Actually, the company built the first 20 floors last year. The remaining 37 had been built between January 31 and February 17 this year since thousands of prefabricated modules were ready by that time.
However, despite the company’s ‘tall’ claims to fame and setting records in high-speed construction, the firm got brickbats instead of bouquets on the social media for ‘throwing all safety norms and building rules to the wind.” The joke that made rounds at that time was “Built today, gone tomorrow” in an obvious reference to alleged poor Chinese construction standards. Building skyscrapers in a few days is an audacious move the overzealous Chinese engineers may have undertaken. But the basic concept of block-building houses can be a boon for the homeless poor in countries like India.
The idea is not new. Many countries in the West and Middle East have started using this technique long ago. But what has given it an edge is the 3-D printing technology that gives refinement to the final product.
This kind of technology is eminently suited to address the housing needs of crores of urban and rural Indians. According to conservative estimates, the country requires six crore housing units. The Modi government has committed to provide housing for all by 2022. But its aim is to build two crore units in villages and four crores in towns and cities. It’s a long term plan requiring billions of dollars in private and public investment. It’s considered a pipe dream since building houses alone won’t solve the problem without providing adequate infrastructure and supporting facilities. More challenging is urban housing. Currently, about 32 per cent of Indian population lives in urban conglomerates and this percentage is expected to go up to 50 by 2050.
If the rising costs of construction materials, labour and land are taken into account, housing prices are bound to go up exponentially. Whether it is a low-cost house or a luxury villa, a home … sweet home, willy-nilly is a mirage. So, it becomes imperative that we start looking at options for affordable dwellings to house crores of people. Pre-fabricated structures or the Chinese model modules developed with waste material (India has plenty of it) hold the key to mass housing. Surely, India too can develop and adopt such techniques to reduce burden on natural resources and to cut environment pollution.