man doing construction
A 3D printer is laying the concrete for the first wall in the city’s first 3D-printed house. The 850-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath house will be geared toward senior living. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman.)

A 3D-printing robot has begun creating the concrete walls for Detroit’s first factory-printed home. 

The nonprofit Citizen Robotics began the work Tuesday in its warehouse in southwest Detroit. The house, also expected to be the first in the state of Michigan, will be built in sections and later assembled in the Islandview neighborhood on the city’s southeast side. 

The single-story, two-bedroom house will be 850 square feet and marketed to low-income individuals earning 80% of the area median income – which is about $50,240 for a two-person household in Detroit. 

Tom Woodman, executive director of Citizen Robotics, said if cities, states, and construction companies don’t begin to invest in the technology that makes building this home possible, “our housing stock will continue to decline.”

“Then the cost of housing will continue to go up and we’ll no longer be able to afford to live in vibrant walkable communities,” Woodman said. 

Tom Woodman at podium
Tom Woodman is the executive director of Citizen Robotics, which is building a 3D-printed home that will be located in the city’s Islandview neighborhood on the southeast side. Woodman expects building homes with this technology will make homes more energy efficient. (BridgeDetroit photo by Bryce Huffman)

A shift toward 3D-printed homes can help fill two of Detroit’s needs: more affordable housing units and making use of this city’s wide swaths of vacant land – about 19 square miles, according to Detroit Future City. Woodman told BridgeDetroit in April that he chose Detroit for the project because the city is “striving for solutions.”

Citizen Robotics also has other 3D-printed home projects planned for Flint and Grosse Pointe Woods. One of the benefits, Woodman said, is that 3D-printed homes are expected to need much less energy to heat and cool than a house made with conventional construction.

“That’s not only better for the future homeowners’ budget, it’s also more sustainable for the planet,” he said. 

The structure of the home is expected to be done by the end of the year. The entire project, designed by Bryan Cook of Develop Architecture, who also is president of the Detroit chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, is expected to be fully complete in spring 2023. 

Cook watched the printing robot Tuesday as it put down the first layers of concrete for one of the walls of the home and said “there’s still a lot of work to go.”

“But it feels really good to be standing here and actually like to see that it’s going up,” Cook said. “It’s happening so I’m just very proud and excited.”

Detroit City Councilman Coleman A. Young II recently requested an analysis from the council’s legal and policy staff on the prospect of a pilot program to build 3D houses in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. He was seeking input from Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department and evaluating if the city could acquire a 3D printer and what it would cost. 

The entire project in Detroit will cost about $230,000, according to Evelyn Woodman, the co-founder of Citizen Robotics, which is paying for some of the construction costs. 

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) is covering the remaining $150,000. MSHDA officials have said the 3D house in Detroit will serve as a “proof of concept project” to help the state determine whether 3D home building is sustainable, cost-effective and energy efficient. 

Last summer, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Citizen Robotics at the nonprofit’s warehouse to announce the state’s plan to invest $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding toward the construction of thousands of affordable homes statewide.

The first full 3D printed home in the country was unveiled at Austin’s South by Southwest conference in 2018, according to a city policy brief.

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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1 Comment

  1. I first heard about this building concept nearly 10 years ago. Very happy to learn of this recent progress in Detroit. It’s been frustrating and sad that it’s taking so long to provide affordable housing for those in need.

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