3D printing is a technology capable of creating three-dimensional objects from a digital 3D model. This can be used domestically to create small objects like action figures for either business or leisure, but naturally, the ability to “print” objects in this manner opens many possibilities.

An unexpected but very welcome use for it is the ability to 3D print entire schools.

There are currently two schools in the world that were 3D-printed using this technology. The first-ever 3D-printed school opened in Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa, and the second has recently finished building in Madagascar.

The interior of the world’s first 3D-printed school. Source: 14Trees
The interior of the world’s first 3D-printed school. Source: 14Trees

The one in Malawai was finished in just 18 hours (not accounting for the creation of the digital 3D model itself), though it is very simple in design precisely to allow for fast deployment.

It was developed and built by 14Trees, a company that specializes in 3D printing solutions in Africa. They’re also responsible for the first-ever 3D-printed house, which was completed in only 12 hours.

14Trees, along with their partners at LafargeHolcim and the CDC Group, hope that with the success of this project, they can continue to build houses and schools in Africa, helping communities that desperately need education and a place to live.

The Bougainvillea school was designed by Thinking Huts. Source: Business Insider
The Bougainvillea school was designed by Thinking Huts. Source: Business Insider

Most recently, the non-profit organization Thinking Huts finished their own 3D-printed school in Madagascar. They were aiming to be the world’s first but fell short of the milestone by the Malawai school.

The school was called Bougainvillea. It is about 700 square feet and houses up to 30 students in a single-floor structure. Like for the Malawai school, the printing only took 18 hours to fully complete.

Truly a phenomenal accomplishment by a non-profit organization run by 17 volunteers. According to them, over 1 million children cannot go to school in Madagascar because of overflowing classrooms or long distances. These fairly easy-to-build 3D-printed schools can bring education to many with a simple infrastructure and fast building time.

The prototype for the school took about 3 weeks to be completed, plus 18 hours for the printing, and finally 12 days to assemble it all together. With the prototype complete, this means schools can be built in less than two weeks with the necessary materials.

Both 14Trees and Thinking Huts also have projects that encompass 3D-printed houses, with some of them already completed and deployed. This might be only the beginning of sustainable and affordable housing for lesser developed countries that need it the most.

At the moment, the biggest obstacle is the cost of printing and the materials required. The Madagascar school cost $300.000, and Thinking Huts’ co-founder says that most of this was from the printer rental and transport costs for the necessary materials.

They’re now trying to secure their own printer, which would greatly reduce costs and shorten the time it takes to finish projects. It would be especially useful since they want to make schools in India and Kenya, as those locations suffer from the same issues as Madagascar and Malawai – many children cannot go to school because of long distances and overcrowded classrooms.

But most importantly, they’ve proved that their projects work and have a tangible social impact, which should help moving forward.