With or without COVID, the world needs more classrooms. More than 30 percent of children around the world are unable to access remote learning platforms, with 3 out of 4 of those kids living in rural areas and/or impoverished households, according to UNICEF. To answer that need, Madagascar nonprofit Thinking Huts is turning to technology—aiming to create the world’s first-ever 3D-printed school. And it plans to complete the project in less than a week.
Maggie Grout, who founded the nongovernmental organization at the age of 15, has partnered with Hyperion Robotics and architecture firm Studio Mortazavi to build the school on the campus of Ecole de Management et d’Innovation Technologique in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar in December. The goal: end educational disparities and make quality education more accessible through creative thinking.
“There is an opportunity for us to combine technology with humanitarian-driven goals. I envision a future where we close the global opportunity gap,” Grout said in a statement. “Education is at the root of tackling many problems the world faces today such as inequality, health epidemics and economic growth. To cross the frontier, we must embrace innovation.”
So instead of following the usual construction process that would take months, the team will use a robotic 3D-printer designed by Hyperion. The tech allows a school—complete with all foundational, electrical and plumbing essentials—to be built in under seven days with limited skilled labor.
The team locally sources the 3D-printing material for the structure, which keeps costs down and reduces the project’s carbon footprint. And then the printer pipes out smooth layers of a concrete-like material that cures to form a solid and stable structure.
The overall design is based on a honeycomb, separated into individual polygonal nodes clad in solar panels. Each one comprises a single open room with windows, two small bathrooms, a closet, a passive ventilation system located near the ceiling, a vertical garden and two entrances. The nodes were designed with forward-looking flexibility in mind: They can be combined to create clusters of rooms to accommodate larger groups or be used as separate classrooms.
The inaugural school will comprise a singular node, but the team has plans to iterate beyond the pilot project—and even beyond Madagascar. The vision calls for an active exchange of ideas between the huts through an online portal that students and teachers could use to access additional resources and work with virtual groups to create a more collaborative learning experience.