This African village has the world’s first 3D printed school

The congregation awoke in awe and stared at the building that appeared to have shot up at the end of the schoolyard in the middle of a November night.

The village of Mcheza in central Malawi, a country in southeastern Africa, stared at the world’s first 3D printed school.

“The night before, men were building equipment on the construction site and in the morning there was a brand new school block on the ground reserved for a school,” Senior Chief Kalonga said on the sidelines of an event on Zenger News about the classroom to the community on June 18, 2021.

French company 14Trees said they built the schoolhouse in less than 15 hours – literally overnight. It has yet to be named.

A teacher leads the classroom in the outdoor classroom The world’s first 3D-printed classroom has an indoor and outdoor classroom on June 18, 2021 in Salima, Malawi.
Ben Kanyizira / Homeline Media

The village of Mcheza in the lakefront district of Salima, 100 km west of the capital Lilongwe, reflects a typical Malawian village: a few barren farmsteads lie in the open meadow, surrounded by dry fields that come to life during the agricultural season.

As in most villages, the schools are far apart so that the children have to cover long distances every day.

Marita Feliat’s eight-year-old daughter Triza, one of the first students to enroll, is happy about the closer lessons.

Triza, a second grader, was born with a disabled left foot that prevents her from walking long distances on days when she is in pain.

“Her last school was over 3 miles (3.1 miles) away and it was a challenge for her to attend classes some days,” said Marita Zenger.

In the 3D school
A class session at the 3D printed school in Salima, Malawi, on June 18, 2021.
Ben Kanyizira / Homeline Media

“So I’m happy about the school in our village because my daughter can now attend classes every day.”

According to the UK charity Classrooms for Malawi, Malawi will need to build more than 40,000 more classrooms to meet demand.

“According to our calculations, if we rely on conventional methods, it would take about 70 years to clear this backlog,” François Perrot, managing director of 14Trees, told Zenger.

“To reduce this backlog faster, we need to constructively change the way we build and use an innovative approach that can bring speed, efficiency and environmental performance on a large scale.

During the handover ceremony, Juliana Kuphanga Chikandila, a primary education advisor who represents the director of education at the Ministry of Education in Malawi, was impressed by the new building.

Students in a 3D school
Marita Feliat’s eight-year-old daughter Triza was one of the first students to enroll at the new school. Triza, a 2nd grade student, was born with a disabled left foot.
Ben Kanyizira / Homeline Media

“Its durability and design give students the space and facilities that were not previously available; teaching and learning can now take place in and out of the classroom,” she said.

“It is very different from the other schools that are being built in the district. This school will attract more students and those who have left will return.”

14Trees was co-founded by LafargeHolcim, a leading supplier of building materials, and CDC Group, the UK development finance institution and impact investor, Perrot said.

Both have invested in 3D printing technology and are getting it where it is needed most.

“We believe that the gap in school infrastructure could be filled with 3D printing in just ten years,” said Perrot.

3D school in Salima, Malawi
Learners get a feel for the 3D printed classroom in Salima, Malawi.
Ben Kanyizira / Homeline Media

Perrot said the school’s walls were erected in less than 12 hours using 3D printed parts: “This method reduces the number of materials required and reduces the carbon footprint of these buildings by up to 70 percent compared to traditional methods of for the units required for printing, we believe that 3D printed buildings will soon be 10 to 20 percent cheaper than traditional processes. “

Catherine Sani, the recently elected president of the Malawi Institute of Architects, said that while it seems fair and reasonable to say that Malawi will benefit from technology due to its lack of critical infrastructure, skill transfer could open up new career options for the people there .

“It is difficult to say whether the French company considered a local skill transfer and made an effort to tackle the skill transfer,” she told Zenger.

“The speed of production with this method is beneficial, but you can’t just look at speed in terms of the cost of printing presses, technology transfer, and ensuring a good design.”

According to Perrot, 3D printing is still a relatively new technology, and 14Trees aims to make it 10 to 20 percent more affordable than traditional construction methods over the next 12 to 18 months.

Outside the 3D school
A teacher leads a lesson outside the 3D printed classroom in Salima, Malawi.
Ben Kanyizira / Homeline Media / Getty Images

“We had to import the pilot school, but the ink we use to print on the walls is now made in Malawi. On-site manufacturing of the ink will dramatically lower the cost of the building for buyers and create local manufacturing jobs. We now have an indigenous Malawian team fully trained to operate the printer. We are confident that we can build schools that are better and improve construction time, quality, environmental impact and affordability, “said Perrot.

“We are now working on 3D-printed housing projects in Kenya and Zimbabwe, with houses being built by the end of this year. We also have school projects that we will build in Malawi and Madagascar and Ethiopia. We have identified opportunities for plumbing projects.” . We are proud that Malawi was the first country to show that 3D printing of social infrastructure is possible. We will use the skills built by our team here in Malawi to introduce this technology and support expansion across the region. “

This story was made available to Newsweek by Zenger News.

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