Innovation That Matters

The research team revealed that 3D-printed soil structures can support plant growth but would likely be limited to plants that can survive with little water. | Photo source E. Baharlou

3D printing with soil creates integrated living walls 

Architecture & Design

Designers are experimenting with plants that need very little water to survive

Spotted: Researchers at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture have found a way to reduce the materials required to build living roofs and walls – structures that incorporate green plants. Rather than constructing a building and then adding soil and plants on top, the team looked at ways to build directly with soil. Deciding on a circular bio-based method of construction, the scientists created a method of 3D printing with soil. The soil includes seeds of plants able to live with minimal water. 

The first structures were small tubes, similar in size to a fizzy drink can. The team then created more complex shapes including domes and are now working on connected walls. The amount of water used in the printing process must be exact so as to ensure the soil is of the right consistency to hold its shape. The compacted soil makes it difficult for seeds to germinate and grow, so stonecrop, a plant with similar properties to cacti, is used for its hardiness.

Future development of the innovation includes building a moving robot for large-scale, complex construction, and working with additional materials such as hemp. For building-size pieces, the team is examining the use of multiple layers to help hold moisture for the soil wall and to prevent cracking.

Additive manufacturing has been tested in homewares for a while now, with Springwise spotting innovations centred around the materials being used, such as recycled fishing nets. As the technology spreads to other industries, it is often explored as a means of reducing costs, as with hand-held medicaHandl diagnostic devices.  

Written By: Keely Khoury



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