Multiple-story 3d printed earth housing in Barcelona

Milà Earth urban exterior view – Image by Francisco Magnone Rienzi, Mara Müller-de Ahna, Shazwan Mazlan, and Michelle Bezic


Milà Earth envisions an earth high-rise building located in Milà i Fontanals street on Vila de Gracia, a high-density neighborhood in Barcelona. An architectural proposal for student housing that aims for vertical densification of the central city. Focusing on using local materials and innovative cutting-edge building technologies, it is inserted into a real urban scenario where it is possible to question and explore the possibilities of 3d printing with earth.

Is it possible to use 3d printed earth to build high-rise or multiple-story housing? How can we integrate these new materials and aesthetics into consolidated urban neighborhoods? Can we use the massiveness of earth vernacular buildings to design fluid and light contemporary spaces?

The source of natural materials such as earth is available inside our cities and represents a huge problem for the construction industry to dispose of. To allow the construction of traditional buildings, the transportation of earth outside the urban context is needed, increasing CO2 emissions.

Taking advantage of the flexibility of additive manufacturing, it is possible to design a versatile response to different conditions or facade orientation and climatic requirements. The use of non-prefabricated walls and arches as structural support introduces a new concept of spatial integration with the city and the surrounding buildings. This structural strategy and material language define the interior space’s main character of the building. A massive and solid expression of a natural material such as earth, that is able to create a contemporary and fluid interconnection of functional spaces.

Bio-material natural source

The source of natural materials such as earth is available inside our cities and the disposal  represents a considerable problem for the construction industry. To allow the construction of traditional buildings, the transportation of soil outside the urban context is needed, increasing CO2 emissions.

One example is La Sagrera Terminal building, which took out 200 trucks of excavated soil every day for 8 months. Milà Earth building proposal would need only 400 trucks -which means 2 days- to obtain the required material.

Design strategy

As a first design input, a lot in Vila de Gracia was selected. Vila de Gracia is a highly densified and requested neighborhood in the central area of Barcelona. Within this central urbanity, it is possible to explore, question, and push the limits of 3d printing with earth in a real urban scenario. 

As second input the competition proposal Fifth Façade and Active Bending Support Competition was revisited. In this research, the possibilities of using additive manufacturing technology to build the fifth facade were explored in depth. Through an Active Bending Scaffolding strategy it was possible to generate covered spaces using arches and a performative design approach enabled us to create spaces that adapt to different conditions. 

By using these two inputs, a proliferation horizontally and vertically was developed using different strategies such as rotating, scaling, and stacking geometries to create a variety of enclosed spaces with a focus on vertical growth.

This system of units based on arches allows a spatial interaction with the urban spaces and the surroundings, while, on the other hand, serving as the primary structural support. A strategy that results in a complex morphology translating vernacular architecture ideas into a contemporary design.

The language of the facade also defines the main character of the interiors. As a result, the massive and solid expression of the earth interacts with the fluidity of spaces.

Milà Earth interior common spaces – Image by Francisco Magnone Rienzi, Mara Müller-de Ahna, Shazwan Mazlan, and Michelle Bezic

Spatial and Climate Solutions

In a city with extreme annual student fluctuation and expensive housing costs, the vertical proposal resolves single and double private units with high-quality common living spaces. Private and public programs are distributed in a complex layout to ensure spatial quality and energy efficiency.

The proposal enhance the experience between private and community spaces through the circulation system. A single continuous that extends from the pedestrian street to the upper public terrace. This results in a variation of floor plans responding to different contexts and programmatic conditions.

Floor plans show the possibility of layout variations within the rationality of the building grid. The performative wall design variates position and dimensions to achieve better structural performances. For example, one of the changing parameters is the decrease in thickness from the top walls to the bottom walls to distribute the loads.

Another parameter is the mass increase of the south facade compared to the north facade to control the sun radiation. This is achieved by changing the length of the walls and by using different infill patterns. 

The bigger arches and balconies are oriented to the south facade. This blocks the sunlight during the summer, allowing it to reach inside spaces during winter.  

An in-process building visualization illustrates a possible distribution of printers and a custom-designed active scaffolding strategy on the site.

Milà Earth construction process – Image by Francisco Magnone Rienzi, Mara Müller-de Ahna, and Shazwan Mazlan


In conclusion, 3D printing earth including the fifth façade is a promising technology that has the potential to revolutionize the construction industry. By using local materials and reducing waste, it offers a sustainable and cost-effective solution to build all kinds of architectural solutions such as housing. 

The possibility of using 3D earth printing technology for multi-story buildings is still in its early stages of development. However, the technology has already demonstrated the ability to construct small structures. As technology advances, it could become more efficient and capable of constructing taller and more complex buildings.

Overall, the potential benefits of 3D earth printing for construction are clear, but there are still challenges to overcome before it becomes a common construction method. Nevertheless, with continued research and development, this technology could pave the way to allow a more local and sustainable future for cities to be built.