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If Ellie Ardakani, CEO at nidus3D, has her way, Canada’s construction industry is about to evolve from a “nails and hammer” industry to a high tech one. She and her team have been engaged by the Siksika Nation to create four four-plexes that will be transition housing using 3-D printing technology. The project is called Kakatoosoyiists, which means Star Lodges in Blackfoot. But that is just the beginning. Her vision is to foster the integration of Canada’s construction into a vibrant made-in-Canada robotics ecosystem.
From the Siksika Nation’s perspective, this pilot project is also just the beginning. As Ryan Hall, the nation’s housing manager, notes if this project is successful, they may buy a 3-D printer and create their own housing company as part of the nation’s larger economic development plan.
Both Ardakani and Hall see the huge potential for 3-D printing playing an important role in the future of housing in Alberta.
What is perhaps most amazing is Kakatoosoyiists will be completed in only 15 months from conception to completion. Hall started working with students enrolled in the University of Calgary’s Master of Architecture program at the beginning of 2023 on some housing ideas, and the homes will be completed in March.
The students collaborated with knowledge keeper Eldon Weasel Child and elder Bren Little Light to create designs that incorporated Blackfoot tipi teachings into the architecture of the new homes. It was the students who, in early spring, identified the potential of 3-D printing as a means of building affordable concrete homes that would be efficient to operate and have the longevity to meet the seven generations thinking of the Blackfoot culture.
The roofs will look like a tipi, with wood beams projecting like tipi poles. The interior spaces are designed with a gathering at the front entrance and places to accommodate sacred bundles when needed. These are custom homes designed for Blackfoot living.
nidus3D’s construction and printing technology caught Hall’s attention in late spring 2023 when the company showcased the capabilities of the technology at Platform Calgary. As they say, the rest is history.
How it works?
It is hard to imagine how you can use a 3-D printer to build a house, but when Ardakani and Nick Dragicevic, nidus3D’s production manager, showed me the video of the printer in action, it all made sense. It really is just like the cement trucks we see at construction sites pouring concrete into forms, but in this case it is a robotic arm hanging from a suspended structure called a gantry system that extrudes the concrete in layers to create the foundation and walls of the house. The printer is huge.
And this isn’t your typical concrete but a concrete mix that is a trade secret made on-site using a mobile batch plant. Because 3-D printed homes require fewer steps to construct than traditional construction, they are built faster, with less overall material waste and smaller crews. Ultimately, they cost 30 per cent less than traditional home construction and maybe more depending on the scale of the project. Also, with double-veneer walls and spray foam in the wall cavity R40 insulation is easy to achieve, resulting in lower heating costs.
One of the challenges of 3-D printing with concrete in Alberta during the cold season is that concrete cannot be extruded through the printer at below-zero temperatures. Fortunately, Hall was able to overcome the challenge by finding a tent at Special Event Tent Rentals that was a perfect fit for the site. During the recent cold snap, the site was maintained at 15 C, allowing construction to continue as planned.
One of the lessons to be learned from this project is how to use 3-D construction printers in Canada’s winter climate.
Top 10 advantages of 3-D printing of homes are:
10. Less waste, more haste: more environmentally friendly.
9. Automation is fun: 24 hours-a-day isn’t a dream anymore.
8. Who doesn’t like lower heating bills.
7. No longer nail and hammer: construction trades become tech jobs.
6. Less is more: build houses with smaller crews, great for rural construction.
5. This is the future: expanding Alberta’s robotic ecosystem.
4. Last for many generations: concrete homes are more resilient.
3. Versatility in design: unique design for indigenous lifestyle.
2. Create a new Blackfoot Nation industry. And…
1. Build quality homes faster, better and cheaper.
Ardakani is an example of an immigration success story. She moved to Canada from Iran to study at the University of Alberta. Living with an Albertan family who accepted international students, she quickly fell in love with the generosity and welcoming spirit. After graduating with a PhD in Geophysics in 2009, she worked in the oil and gas industry before embracing her entrepreneurial spirit and moving to the tech sector. On a personal level, she wants to give back by using innovative robotic technology to help address Alberta and ultimately Canada’s affordable housing crisis.