A Brief History Of Drywall Or: How Drywall Came To Dominate The World Of Construction

Drywall is common and ubiquitous in commercial and residential buildings today. Many of us barely think about it until we have to repair a hole smashed in it.

However, drywall has not been around forever, and actually took many years to establish itself as a popular building material. Today, we’ll look at how it came about, and why it went on to dominate the world of construction.

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You Wouldn’t 3D Print A House, Would You?

Most houses built in the US today are platform construction: skinny two-by-fours are stacked and layered to create walls with studs. Each floor is framed on top of the other. It is fast, relatively cheap, and easy to learn how to do. However, it is not without drawbacks. Some estimates put the amount of waste generated per square foot (0.09 m2) at around 3.9 lbs (1.8 kg).

Timber framing is an older style where giant beams are used to create the structure of the house. Each timber is hand-carved and shaped, requiring skill and precision. Some cabins are still built this way because it is easy to source the timber locally and cutting into big logs is less work than cutting into lots of small logs. It’s relatively ecologically friendly, but slow and skilled-labor intensive.

We live in a world where there is a vast need for cheaper, faster, more eco-friendly housing, but finding a solution that can tick all the boxes is fiendishly difficult. Can 3D-printed housing accomplish all three of those goals? We’re not there yet, but we’re working on it.

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A Great Resource For The Would-Be Pinball Machine Builder

Those of us beyond a certain age will very likely have some fond memories of many an hour spent and pocket money devoured feeding the local arcade pinball machine. At one time they seemed to be pretty much everywhere, but sadly, these days they seem to have largely fallen out of favour and are becoming more of speciality to be specifically sought out. Apart from a few random ones turning up — there’s a fun Frankenstein-themed machine in the Mary Shelley Museum in Bath, England — a trip to a local amusement arcade is often pretty disappointing, with modern arcade machines just not quite scratching that itch anymore, if you ask us. So what’s an old-school hacker to do, but learn how to build a machine from scratch, just the way we want it? A great resource for this is the excellent Pinball Makers site, which shows quite a few different platforms to build upon and a whole ton of resources and guides to help you along the way.

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Concrete With 3D Printed Foam Forms

The latest 3D printing application?  Forming concrete. That’s according to a team at ETH Zurich who claims that construction with foam forms cuts concrete usage up to 70%. It also offers improved insulation properties. You can see a video about the process, below.

Typical concrete work relies on a form often made with wood, steel, or plastic. That’s easy to do, but hard to make complex shapes. However, if you can create complex shapes you can easily put material where it adds strength and omit material where it doesn’t carry load. Using a robotic-arm 3D print technique, the researchers can lay out prefabricated blocks of foam that create forms with highly complex shapes. Continue reading “Concrete With 3D Printed Foam Forms”

3D-printed wall builder, circa 1930s

Retrotechtacular: 3D-Printed Buildings, 1930s Style

Here we are in the future, thinking we’re so fancy and cutting edge with mega-scale 3D printers that can extrude complete, ready-to-occupy buildings, only to find out that some clever inventor came up with essentially the same idea back in the 1930s.

The inventor in question, one [William E. Urschel] of Valparaiso, Indiana, really seemed to be onto something with his “Machine for Building Walls,” as his 1941 patent describes the idea. The first video below gives a good overview of the contraption, which consists of an “extruder” mounted on the end of a counterweighted boom, the length of which determines the radius of the circular structure produced. The boom swivels on a central mast, and is cranked up manually for each course extruded. The business end has a small hopper for what appears to be an exceptionally dry concrete or mortar mix. The hopper has a bunch of cam-driven spades that drive down into the material to push it out of the hopper; the mix is constrained between two rotating disks that trowel the sides smooth and drive the extruder forward.

The device has a ravenous appetite for material, as witnessed by the hustle the workers show keeping the machine fed. Window and door openings are handled with a little manual work, and the openings are topped with lintels to support the concrete. Clever tools are used to cut pockets for roof rafters, and the finished structure, complete with faux crenellations and a coat of stucco, looks pretty decent.

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The Ground Beneath Your Feet: SuperAdobe Construction

Homes in different parts of the world used to look different from each other out of necessity, built to optimize for the challenges and benefits of local climate. When residential climate control systems became commonplace that changed. Where a home in tropical south Florida once required very different building methods (and materials) compared to a home in the cold mountains of New England, essentially identical construction methods are now used for single-family homes in any climate. The result is inefficient and virtually indistinguishable housing from coast to coast, regardless of climate. As regions throughout the world are facing increasingly dire housing shortages, the race is on to find solutions that are economical and available to us right now.

The mission of CalEarth, one of the non-profits that Hackaday has teamed up with for this year’s Hackaday Prize, is to address that housing shortage by building energy-efficient homes out of materials already available in the areas that they will be built. CalEarth specializes in building adobe, or earth, homes that have a large thermal mass and an inexpensive bill of materials. Not only does this save on heating and cooling costs, but transportation costs for materials can be reduced as well. Some downside to this method of construction are increased labor costs and the necessity of geometric precision of the construction method, both of which are tackled in this two-month design challenge.

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Advanced Timber Architecture Gives New Life To Wooden Structures

When it comes to building materials, wood doesn’t always draw the most attention as the strongest in the bunch. That honor usually goes to concrete and steel – steel embedded in concrete provides support and a foundation for tall buildings, while concrete increases tensile strength and can be formed into a variety of shapes with the help of rebar. Wood, on the other hand, decays and is vulnerable to moisture damage and fire.

That’s not necessarily the case anymore, thanks to the development of advanced timber. New materials like glulam, or sheets of timber bonded with moisture-resistant structural adhesives, can be produced using two to three times less energy than steel, making them environmentally-friendly alternatives to other building materials. Granted, this requires the beams to be burned at the end of their lifespan, but glulam still has an equivalent or better environmental profile compared to steel, not to mention a lower cost.

Among engineered wood, there are some varieties more commonly used among hobbyists – MDF, plywood, or particle board for instance. Others, like Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) are more common among building materials. While CLT buildings have existed for decades, recently major cities like Stockholm and Vancouver have seen a resurgence of timber construction. Since wood can theoretically store carbon for the entire length of its lifespan, up to 0.8 tons in a cubic meter of spruce, some architecture firms like Oslotre are building houses with a negative carbon footprint.

Projects like Sidewalk Labs and Masthamnen are proposing entire neighborhoods and skyscrapers built from advanced timber. Compared to International Style architecture, characterized by gray concrete, shiny metal, and glass, this movement could be a step towards returning to natural architectural forms. Given the stress reducing effects of green spaces in cities, engineered wood buildings could bridge the gap between modern architectural styles and natural woodlands.