Gaia: When the Earth Becomes Home


Gaia, a case study of 3D printed house using natural materials from the surrounding area. (Image:

Gaia is a high-performing living module both in terms of energy and indoor health, with an almost zero environmental impact. Printed in a few weeks thanks to its masonry, it does not need heating or an air conditioning system, as it maintains a mild and comfortable temperature inside both in winter and in summer.

WASP, a studio based out of Italy, recently produced a full-scale residential prototype out of soil, rice products, and hydraulic lime. Measuring approximately 320-square-feet, the project was completed in 10 days and was built in the town of Massa Lombarda in the region of Emilia-Romagna, Italy.

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The project aims to establish a template for mass-produced biodegradable and structurally efficient housing. The building rises from a circular concrete foundation, relying on a team-developed computational design to reduce the total quantity of materials while imprinting geometric variation across the facade.

The story of Gaia

Gaia is the Greek mythological personification of the Earth as a goddess. Thus, naming the first eco-friendly and zero waste house after the Greek goddess was a fitting salute.

Watch this video of Gaia’s construction.

WASP teamed up with the Italian architect firm Mario Cucinella and came up with TECLA (technology and clay) to address the need to build sustainable homes without damaging the ecosystem. The design and idea of using soil to build a home came from the wasp. Wasps are known for making durable structures and the Potter wasp makes nests out of the mud that is complex and durable.

The core materials used for Gaia are the soil from the site and natural waste materials that are generated in the rice production industry. For the fabrication of the residential prototype, WASP used a 3D printer suspended from a crane, aptly titled Crane WASP. The mixture, composed of 25 percent soil, 40 percent chopped rice straw, 25 percent rice husk, and 10 percent hydraulic lime, was dispensed onto successive layers with a series of triangular cavities placed between the primary interior and exterior courses. Rice husks were poured into the cavities to insulate the structure.

Although the biodegradable material is suitable for use as an enclosure system, the principal load-bearing elements for the overhanging octagonal roof are wooden columns placed along the interior of the structure. For the interior of the structure, WASP softened the rustic materials by treating them with clay lamina and linseed oils.

“Gaia is a highly performing module both in terms of energy and indoor health, with almost zero environmental impact,” said the design team. “Printed in a few weeks, thanks to its masonry it does not need heating or an air conditioning system, as it maintains a mild and comfortable temperature both in winter and in summer.”

This is the first architectural module ever realized with the 3D print technology Crane WASP using clay earth and rice waste, like straw and husks. (Image:

The benefits of the Gaia design

The project also aims to provide the need to do away with artificial heating and cooling thanks to the layered design that adjusts the internal temperatures according to the season. The construction of the prototype consumes approximately 6 kW of energy. This also reduces the cost of energy, allowing for negligible waste. Incorporating biodegradable waste products further increases the positive impact the project will have on the ecosystem. Being made of multiple layers, the construction not only provides a thermal-acoustic effect, it also provides structural stability and the solidness that a house requires.

The design is totally inspired by nature. Mario Cucinella mentions that humans have become almost alienated from nature and the empathy that primitive humans had. He further stresses that architects nowadays are just building for the sake of building a house, with no concern for the climate and the surroundings.

In contrast, Gaia offers the opportunity to take advantage of the multiple potentials that 3D printing can express thanks to using natural resources, guaranteeing a minimum environmental impact in addition to infinite design solutions, essential in a new living frontier vision.

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