Casa Covida, a 3D-printed adobe house for two in Colorado’s San Luis Valley

Country: United States
Architectural Design: Emerging Objects (www.emergingobjects.com)

Casa Covida, 3D printed adobe house, Rael San Fratello 1

Casa Covida; photo © Elliott Ross courtesy of Rael San Fratello.

Casa Covida, a 3D-printed adobe house for two in Colorado’s San Luis Valley

Designed by San Francisco-based Emerging Objects, a “3D Printing MAKE-tank” founded by American architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, Casa Covida is a small 3D-printed earthen house for two people located in a high alpine desert in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

The project was developed during the coronavirus pandemic (hence its name) both as a prototype space for co-habitation in the time of Covid-19 and as an experimental 3D-printed sustainable house for extreme environments such as American high deserts.
I suspect Rael and San Fratello have intended Casa Covida also as a provocation on the theme of self-isolation in today’s world, so I think it should not be taken too literally, from a functional point of view.

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The house can be covered by a balloon-shaped pneumatic roof; © Elliott Ross.

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Photo © Elliott Ross.

Made of adobe – a mixture of clay, sand, silt, clay, water, and straw – a traditional local building material, the building was realized through on-site additive manufacturing by a 3D printing system, made by 3D Potter Inc, consisting of a portable 3-axis robotic arm and a stator-driven mortar pump. After printing an adobe layer about 400/500-millimeter thick, the material was allowed to dry and harden in the sun. The soil for the adobe mix was excavated within a few hundred meters from the construction site, combined with water and locally-sourced chopped wheat and barley straw, and mixed by hand using traditional techniques before being loaded into the 3D printing system pump. This ingenious combination of traditional indigenous materials and innovative building technology is certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the Casa Covida experiment.

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The house under construction, photo © Rael San Fratello.

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The house was built from adobe using additive manufacturing; image courtesy of 3D Potter inc. 

Potterbot Scara V4 3D printer

A 3D Potterbot Scara V4 printer similar to the one that was used to make Casa Covida; image courtesy of 3D Potter Inc.

The house is composed of three interconnected, almost identical, cylindrical modules. The modules are roofless since the San Luis Valley is characterized by one of the world’s lowest raining levels at about 228mm of rain per year; yet, if necessary, each module can be covered by a pneumatic roof to shelter the occupants from occasional rain and to keep the interior space warmer, especially at night and in winter. The house’s magenta-colored balloon-shaped roofs, installed on top of the modules, make Casa Covida look a bit like a bunch of giant hedgehog cactuses in bloom In the middle of the desert.

Each of the three modules houses a different functional space – a living room/kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom. The living space contains a small hearth and is furnished with two earthen benches covered with woven textiles; the house’s cookware, which is made of local micaceous clay, is also 3D-printed. The sleeping space is furnished with a beetle kill pine* flooring covered with sheepskins, woven wool blankets, and cushions. The bathroom contains a circular bathtub surrounded by black river rocks. The other wooden elements of Casa Covida – comprising four lintels and the entrance door – are made of charred beetle kill pine, harvested locally.

* Beetle kill pine is a high-quality wood for paneling and flooring from pine trees that have been killed by a little bark beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae). A fungus from the beetle discolors the wood naturally and gives it a peculiar blue tint.

Casa Covida
Year: 2020
Location: San Luis Valley, Colorado, USA
Project team  Emerging Objects: Ronald Rael, Virginia San Fratello, Mattias Rael, Sandy Curth, Logman Arja. 3D Potter: Danny Defelici. Textiles by Joshua Tafoya.

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Casa Covida, interior view; photo © Elliott Ross.

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A view of the living/cooking space; photo © Elliott Ross.

3D printed pottery, Rael San Fratello inside 2

Inspired by the Pueblo pottery, the house’s cookware was 3D printed using local clay; photo courtesy of Rael San Fratello.

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The sleeping space is covered with sheep skins, blankets, and cushions made in collaboration with local artisans; photos © Elliott Ross.

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 A view of the bathing space; photo © Rael San Fratello.

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Photo © Elliott Ross.


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