A Prefab, 3‑D Printed, Car- and Solar-Powered Tiny House

A Prefab, 3‑D Printed, Car- and Solar-Powered Tiny House

How SOM and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory are driving green living to the next level.

How many hot buttons can one building push? Cute little AMIE (Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy) may well be setting a record: it’s a prefab, 3‑D printed, zero-waste, solar-powered tiny structure. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it was assembled out of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic by the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It even comes with its own handy 3‑D-printed natural gas hybrid vehicle, which wirelessly transmits power as needed.

In fact, this is really a story about the symbiotic relationship between car and house; instead of just sitting in the driveway, the car becomes a power plant that supplies the building with energy. It is the apotheosis of the American dream, a country home and SUV in one. While it’s diminutive (at 42 square metres, it accommodates a state-of-the-art kitchen fitted out with GE appliances, and little else), as a symbol of the freedom to take the road less travelled, it would be hard to beat.

It’s a futuristic vision that Brian Lee, a design partner at SOM’s Chicago offices, says is intentional: “We wanted to show how these technologies are like nothing we’ve seen before, to get people excited about the huge opportunities they unlock. These structures can not only be beautiful, but deeply sustainable.”

Some might complain that it’s hard to call AMIE sustainable when it’s made of over 11,000 kilograms of ABS plastic; others might object to its reliance on a big, natural gas–fired SUV as a power source. But there’s more here than meets the eye. The design process, the additive printing, the speed – all are pushing the envelope. AMIE was never intended to be put into production, Lee explains. Rather, it’s a demonstration project whose valuable lessons will be folded in to the next stage of research. (See Foster + Partners car-as-power-plant demonstration project for Nissan here.)

“We’re extremely proud of our design,” he says, “but the biggest success is that we were part of a group that broke down boundaries between organizations and sectors, industry and government, to realize something in nine months that will shape how we live in the next century.”  ­

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