The First 3D Printed School to Come Up in Madagascar

Studio Mortazavi has designed a 3D-printed school for a non-profit organisation Thinking Huts, the brainchild of teenager Maggie Grout, made from concrete and locally sourced construction materials in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar.

Maggie Grout was 15, a sophomore in high school, when she envisioned 3D printed schools for those who do not have access to education. Unlike other children of her age, this humanitarian vision was not just a fad for a school project which in all likelihood would be abandoned, instead, this idea has grown into Thinking Huts ( a nonprofit organisation having a base in the US with a focus on making education more accessible to underserved communities. And now her vision is finally going to be a reality with the first project going live in Madagascar. Maggie has partnered with San Francisco–based architectural design agency Studio Mortazavi (founded by Amir Mortazavi) to create the world’s first 3-D printed school set on four acres of land on the university campus of Ecole de Management et d’Innovation Technologique (EMIT), located in Fianarantsoa, and will serve local Malagasy students. Hyperion Robotics is a Finnish technology company that will provide 3D printers and the appropriate training.

“We considered seven countries for our first 3D printed school and ultimately partnered with a university, EMIT, in Madagascar based upon its stable political outlook in an emerging economy, the opportunity for growth, as well as renewable energy potential. A large factor was forming local partnerships that share our mission of promoting education and community involvement,” says Maggie Grout.

Studio Mortazavi’s design features a beehive configuration which allows for the attachment of multiple schools. A roof made from galvanised metal covered with native grass will help the buildings blend into their surroundings.

According to UNESCO, worldwide there are over 260 million children who do not have access to education. In Madagascar, 60% of the 1.3 million primary-age students are not enrolled in school due to overcrowding and insufficient investment in education infrastructure. 1 out of 3 Malagasy children do not complete primary education.

The Malagasy people struggle economically with nearly 70% of the population in Madagascar living below the poverty level.  This has implications on the number of funds available for school infrastructure and innovative technology research and development. The young population growth combined with the rural settings and struggling economic situation are strong indicators of the large educational infrastructure needed in Madagascar.

There is a pressing need in Madagascar to substantially increase the infrastructure for education. Until such a time exists where the population and the government are able to allocate the needed funding and resources, alternatives will need to be contemplated and enacted. Thinking Huts saw this as an excellent proving ground for the utilisation of 3D Printing Technology to assist in the rapid and structurally sound construction of schools throughout the country of Madagascar.

“Leveraging 3D printing on an architectural scale, we will be building our first 3D printed school in November 2021. The lack of education infrastructure hinders the potential of Malagasy students,” says Maggie, the enthusiastic CEO of Thinking Huts.

While 3D printed structures are gaining popularity, this could be the first 3D printed school that comes to fruition. The differences between 3D Printed Structures and the traditionally built structures are primarily in the increased structural integrity of the 3D Printed materials and the amount of time spent during the construction phase. 3D Printing of schools will result in more durable, more structurally sound, and shorter construction times as compared with the traditional processes. This will have the collateral effect of requiring more (not less) labour and developing skill sets that can utilise a more technological approach to construction. The providing of a 3D Printer to the task of printing schools throughout Madagascar will be a key technology transfer aimed at improving the lives of the people in Madagascar.

“3D printing allows us to build more schools in less time and at a lower cost. Our 3D printer will extrude a concrete mixture able to withstand up to 50 MPa. Built from the ground up, the printed walls are honeycombed and hollow — allowing for a reduction in concrete which is one of the largest polluters in the construction industry. The pilot school will consist of a hybrid design featuring 3-D printed walls and locally sourced construction materials for the roof, door, et cetera. “Pockets” on the pod walls allow for vertical farms; these also double as climbing walls for children,” says Amir Mortazavi.

“We implemented a traditional Malagasy tribal pattern that has a repetitive stamp on both the interior and exterior of the building that we are currently testing,” says Amir.

Most 3-D printed objects have a light grey tone as their base colour. And the designers want a façade that makes the building camouflaged to its natural habitat similar to how rammed-earth buildings use the pigments from the earth under the structure. “We want there to be a natural graduation within the various layers of structure similar to how a rock cliff would have variations in tone,” he says.

A pair of two-inch-thick walls spaced 8–14 inches apart give the outer shell some movement, and feature a spiderweb-like structure that connects them but leaves large enough voids to run plumbing and electricity throughout the building, Amir explains.

The proposed 3D Printed school will be a single-story building of approximately 1,700 square feet with space for between 30 to 40 students.

“The beauty of 3-D printed walls is that it’s actually easier to make curves rather than right angles. We can have walls that undulate in thickness as well as create relief patterns that with more traditional forms of construction is more challenging and expensive,” Mortazavi notes. While polygon modular pods lend a certain flexibility so the school can scale up in size based on demand, Mortazavi also remains committed to furnishing the interiors with a local aesthetic appeal, working with local craftsmen to produce furniture using sustainably harvested wood from Madagascar.

“It would be wonderful to scale our concept globally and beyond Madagascar. I’m afraid this would depend on the funding to support the expansion of operations, but we would love to reach as many students as possible and be part of increasing access to education,” says Maggie who is raring to take this technology and partner with on-ground experts and spread the message of educating all.

Maggie hopes the school in Madagascar will spur innovation, create opportunities and access to education. “Our hybrid design is conscious of the local economy by partnering with Malagasy-based businesses, such as LafargeHolcim, as we source materials,” she says, “In the age of remote learning, our concept is even more urgently needed. Many students in developing countries do not have access to the internet and schools will still be needed. We can decrease the long travel distances and address overcrowding by leveraging 3D printing to build schools more quickly in partnership with communities where they are needed. The pandemic has definitely presented some challenges in terms of the project timeline and impacts on fundraising, but we are optimistic that we can launch our first school and continue growing to positively impact as many communities as we can around the world. This is only the beginning,” she says.

The estimated elapsed time to ‘print’ a 2,000 square foot single storey structure is 22 hours. The wall produced during the 3D printing process will be 27 times stronger than a sun-dried clay brick, 3.5 times stronger than a kiln-fired clay brick, and 2 times as strong as standard concrete. This strength provides much more resistance to decay and structural failure of the wall than the use of clay bricks (kiln fired or sun-dried) or even traditional concrete. This is key to keeping students safe and maximizing the useful life of the building.

“As this technology is relatively new, there are no longitudinal studies to clearly establish the exact useful life of a 3D printed wall, so an estimate is derived from the useful life of standard concrete,” adds Maggie.

Images and details provided by Thinking Huts.