The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), based in Barcelona, has been, for some time now, exploring and investigating the potentials of additive manufacturing (3D printing) applied to the architectural field, therefore implemented on a larger scale (eg. Minibuilders). With the interest of further developing the potentials of this technique on the large scale, and in view of the environmental and economic crisis, IAAC has been investigating the possibility of on-site additive manufacturing and fabrication with local and 100% natural materials.


The objective of the Pylos project was to develop a technique that went beyond the robot – relying only on its mechanical properties – and allowing a design research based exclusively on the material properties and behaviour. This research process included the optimisation of material mix, using only natural additives, as well as optimising fabrication times.

The Pylos research project develops 3D printing as a large scale construction method, moreover developed with natural, biodegradable, recyclable and locally found materials, an undeniable interest particularly in this time of economic and environmental crisis.

This material can’t be anything other than soil. The project focuses on the natural properties of soil. Earth, or soil, as a construction material, has been used since Neolithic times. The advantages of an earth – soil structure are primarily related to both the environment and economy, being secure and friendly to our environment. Soil also offers the benefits of natural insulation, fire protection, air circulation, low first cost, 100% recyclable structures, stiffness, great strength, thermal flywheel effect, low greenhouse emissions, regulating the climate and providing a healthy indoor environment.

The project places a specific focus on the behaviour of the soil for 3D printing when it was mixed with other ingredients, towards a better understanding of the material and the potential composites. The material results obtained through the development of the first phase of this research project are extremely promising. The soil has 3 times higher tensile strength than industrial hard clay.

The importance of the material chosen for this additive manufacturing research is not related only to the unlimited existing quantity but also to decrease the emerging degree of embodied energy within the fabrication process, transportation hazards and production independent of electricity, fuel availability and greenhouse effects.

The project is also inspired by one of the unbaked soil properties. Soil can be recycled an indefinite number of times over an extremely long period. Old dry loam can be reused after soaking in water, so loam never becomes a waste material that can harm the environment.

In a moment in which there is a boom in global population growth and urbanisation, with a high percentage of this populating living in low-quality housing conditions, it becomes imperative to push for affordable architecture and housing: low-cost quality solutions for developed and developing countries. Pylos has proven significant possibilities in terms of design variations, ensuring a sound structural quality, low energy consumption, and undeniable affordability (0.50€/kg). This project proves sustainable, low-cost, large-scale solutions for the architecture scale through the digitalisation and advancements of vernacular architecture and traditional techniques, creating a new vision for the future of the construction sector, architecture and the city.

See all the prints and more on the official PYLOS site:

Project credits:


  • Sofoklis Giannakopoulos

Research advisor:

  • Areti Markopoulou

Extensive support :

  • Robotic expert: Alexandre Dubor,
  • Computational expert: Rodrigo Aguirre

The research project initiated in IAAC Open Thesis Fabrication 2013 program with the support of Enrico Dini (D-Shape) and the collaboration of Cristina Rueda (Slow Life Projects).


Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens – Greece
An exhibition from the future… now 
December 15, 2014 – March 1, 2015

Esba TALM – Site du Mans, Le Mans – France
Synthetic Exhibition 
November 26 – December 19, 2015

Le Lieu du Design, Paris – France
Impression 3D, l’Usine du Futur
April 1 – July 9, 2016