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affordable housingMakeshift tent communities become semi-permanent homes for those who have lost everything to natural disasters. Though housing charities like San Francisco-based New Story have built 850 houses for those affected by natural disasters since 2015, the cost and time it takes to build these houses are hindering the progress.

With plans to build an entire 3-D printed community in earthquake-prone El Salvador by the end of this year, New Story is partnering with ICON to print affordable housing for those that have no choice but to live in tents. Of the 850 houses built so fair, New Story has raised funds for 1,600. Solutions like the 3-D printed house will ensure that available funds are utilized efficiently, transitioning more communities from tents to secure shelters sooner.

Printing 3-D Affordable Housing

The current cost for one New Story house equipped with running water, a sanitary bathroom and concrete floor is $6,500. In March of this year, ICON, New Story’s tech construction partner, printed a 3-D house that only cost $4,000 and was built in 24 hours.

Specifically designed for disaster relief housing, the 3-D printer that built this prototype is made from aluminum, making the printer lightweight and easily transportable. The printer has a generator built in should a power outage arise. Designed to withstand worst conditions, ICON’s 3-D printer is revolutionizing affordable housing solutions, specifically for those devastated by natural disasters.

So far, houses built by New Story have improved the lives of over 6,000 people. Through traditional construction, houses have been built in the following places:

  • Haiti – Leveque, Labodrie, Minoterie, Gonaives
  • El Salvador – Nuevo Cuscatlan, Ahuachapan
  • Bolivia – Mizque

How 3-D Printed Houses Change Lives

Living in a secure shelter helps people out of poverty. Not having the worry of where clean water will come from, the floor turning into mud from the rain or someone robbing the home in the middle of the night allows people to focus on things other than survival.

Prior to living in their New Story houses, a community in Labodrie, Haiti, lived in tents for nearly six years after the 2010 earthquake. Many families were separated due to poor living conditions that were unsafe for children. Living in secure shelters bumped the community’s employment rate up 16 percent and reunited families. 150 homes were built equipped with clean running water, bathrooms and concrete floors.

Also devastated by the 2010 earthquake was Leveque, Haiti. People had been living in tent cities before New Story stepped in. With access to clean water, bathrooms and concrete floors, 75 percent of children in this community now attend school.

In El Salvador, 90 homes were built in Nuevo Cuscatlan and Ahuchapan with the help of New Story. In Nuevo Cuscatlan, 16 percent of homeowners started a business from their home, a playground was built in the community for the children and 66 percent of these children are attending school.

The Future of 3-D Printing

The impact of living in a solid home is the difference between surviving and thriving in a community. With the help of new technology, affordable housing will be built in even more communities than in the past. In addition to helping those affected by natural disasters, 3-D printing homes has the potential to help with a global housing shortage caused by rapid city growth and unaffordable housing prices.

According to City Lab, in some developing nations, “housing costs exceed incomes by more than 3000 percent.”  Disaster area or not, unaffordable housing puts people at risk for poverty.  Continued innovation by companies like ICON and New Story will build stronger, self-sustaining communities in places that are most susceptible to natural and manmade disaster.

– Hope Kelly
Photo: Flickr


Poverty is a condition in which income is not enough to afford access to necessary goods, services and infrastructure needed to sustain a quality living standard. Securing and maintaining the means to satisfy adequate nutrition, healthcare, shelter, clothing and other humane safety provisions requires significant funds.

Past Printing

Imagine post-World War I Germany in the 1920s. To fund its military during the war and satisfy reparations thereafter to the Allied nations, the German government’s solution to producing more national income was simple — it commissioned 130 printing companies to print more money.

This, however, gave rise to increasing inflation in which their currency, the German mark, unsupported by a gold standard, became virtually worthless. With every printing press, creating more money became perpetually futile, and the German mark was more useful for a child’s arts and crafts project than it was to purchase food and clothing.

A New Kind of Tech

Less than a century later, technology and three-dimensional (3D) printing has allowed us to not only print currency with regular modifications (so as to prevent counterfeit bills), but to also print the very goods and supplies purchasable with said currency.

Three-dimensional printing employs the use of specialized technology called “additive manufacturing” — computer aided design and modeling software produce a virtual rendering of just about any three-dimensional object.

A 3D printer then reads a data file and melts raw material, such as plastic, metals and concrete, and with laser technology deposits that material through a nozzle. Layer upon layer, the virtual model forms the tactile facsimile.

New Story

A California-based non-profit organization, New Story, wants to sponsor printing-improved homes in El Salvador — Central America’s smallest and most population-dense nation. New Story has also partnered with the company ICON, an Austin, Texas construction technology company, to remedy housing shortages in El Salvador through ICON’s industrial Vulcan 3D printer.

At this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, ICON debuted its cement, single-story, 650-square-foot prototype home, a 3D rendering from the Vulcan printer. ICON claims it can erect such a home for $10,000 and in less than 24 hours time. The model is sleek with white concrete and features a living room, bedroom, bathroom and arched porch.

New Story aims to build 100 3D printed homes in El Salvador by 2019, compounding its previous accomplishments in the building of over 700 traditionally constructed homes in Bolivia, El Salvador, and Haiti; the corporation also built 1,300 worldwide.

Revitalizing Slums

ICON maintains it can trim 3D-printed building costs down to $4,000 and that its Vulcan printer can make a home as large as 800-square-feet. 3D printed homes are considered far more cost effective than the typical home. In El Salvador, a nation of over 6 million people, 35 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Housing shortages are said to affect 944,000 families, amounting to 6 out of 10 families with insufficient housing.

And as 68 percent of El Salvadorians lived in urban areas in 2017, latest estimates from 2005 show 29 percent of El Salvador’s urban population lived in slum housing. Slum dwelling is defined as a group of people under the same roof without improved water and sanitation, durable housing or all of the above.

Preventing Natural Disasters

El Salvador’s geography leaves its buildings’ integrity exceptionally susceptible to natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and volcanic eruptions. It is precariously situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a global seismic belt where 81 percent of the world’s earthquakes occur.

Ninety-five percent of El Salvadorians are said to be at risk of a natural disaster. In November 2009, Hurricane Ida displaced 15,000 people and damaged no less than 2,500 homes. New Story is currently fundraising $600,000 for research and development and another $400,000 for the community of 100 3D printed homes in El Salvador.

3D printed homes and building materials originated in Europe. A Dutch company, Dus Architects, built one of the first prototypes, — a small pavilion structure — in Amsterdam in March 2014. In September 2014, Chinese company, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering, used their custom 3D printer to create 10 homes with a cement blend of construction waste and glass fiber. This material incorporation lent more efficient material use to an already eco-friendly production.

3D Printing Around the Globe

The first inhabitable 3D printed home was recently erected in Nantes, France in April 2018 and tenancy is expected this June. The University of Nantes and the Nantes Digital Sciences Laboratory developed the five-bedroom home and a machine called the Batiprint3D built its frame in 18 days.

3D printing has also been proposed by the U.K.-based Oxfam, a confederation of 20 charitable organizations, to aid disaster relief by reproducing its water, sanitation and hygiene kits. Oxfam and non-profit 3D printing company, Field Ready, provided medical instruments and water pipe fittings in response to Nepal’s 2015 earthquake that claimed the lives of 9,000 people and injured 16,800.

There are several predecessors that have used, or plan to use, 3D printing for home construction and humanitarian efforts. But New Story and ICON lead the way with their campaigns to actualize proposals, print homes and alleviate homelessness and unsafe housing without for-profit interest.

Home is Where the Hard-drive Is 

According to the United Nations, over one billion people worldwide live in slum housing — ramshackle homes fortified with scrap metal and founded on unfinished or dirt flooring.

New Story wants to transform slums worldwide into safe living communities; to that end, El Salvador stands to benefit first ahead of the rest of international community with the advent of livable 3D printed homes and requisite funding. All donations to New Story are matched up to $1 million.

– Thomas Benjamin
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents El SalvadorLatin American countries tend to be represented as third-world countries compared to more prosperous ones like the United States. El Salvador is not exempt from such narratives. One such way that the media misrepresents El Salvador is by only covering the negative aspects of the news and not the positive. Some of the negative portrayals include stories about drugs, murders and gang violence.

A Better Future for Salvadorans

While there is this negativity present, there is also a garment factory that is trying to help turn the life of its workers around. This garment factory hired people “who are normally left out of society, including ex-gang members,” according to PBS News Hour. The factory combines school and works to give El Salvador a brighter future.

The factory’s general manager, Rodrigo Bolanos, said, “I saw the American dream, where lower- and middle-class kids can work and study at night in community colleges. And for me, that is a good way to resolve and to give the American dream right here in El Salvador to all these poor people.”

Carlos Arguetta, a previous gang member, wore long sleeves to his interview to try to cover up his tattoos, as described in the report. Through an interpreter, Arguetta stated that if he “didn’t have a job like this one, [he] would probably still be part of the gang and be doing killings.”

Improving Living Conditions in Slums

Another way that the media misrepresents El Salvador is in the way that its citizens live. Descriptions of wooden shacks are abundant when describing living conditions. While that might be true, there are two companies that are trying to change the places that Salvadorans live in.

Recently, a Texas-based construction technology company by the name of ICON partnered with New Story, a company that builds homes in developing countries, in order to provide better living conditions for those stuck in the El Salvador slums. ICON and New Story plan to transport a 3D-printer in order to produce 3D-printed homes for people at a highly reduced building cost.

The companies hope to give people who live in the slums an opportunity to live in a safer housing environment. As reported by Arab News, the mixture that produces the homes contains “a mix of concrete, water and other materials [that] are pumped through the 3D-printer.” The mixture hardens as it is being printed. It only takes 48 hours for a house to be built from the ground up. This is a much better alternative to makeshift shacks that citizens currently live in.

Using Art to Combat Violence

The final persistent misrepresentation of El Salvador in the media is the violence, and while the violence does occur, the nation is often presented as inescapable. However, art is one way that Salvadorans are able to escape their realities.

Marco Paíz is an artist and organizer of a festival by the name of “Sombrilla Fest,” or umbrella fest. It is a festival that is part of a bigger celebration called the World Social Circus Day, which takes place annually on April 7. This day is organized to be an international day to spread joy and is celebrated by 20 nations worldwide.

The goal of the festival is to have people “take over these spaces and these activities so that they [can] come out of the darkness of the violence that surrounds the country,” said Marco Paíz to TeleSur. It can also be an opportunity to motivate Salvadorans to learn the artistic practices so that they are able to improve their own living situation.

Despite the ways in which the media misrepresents El Salvador, there are numerous positive developments happening across this Central American nation.

– Valeria Flores

Photo: Flickr