3D-printed architecture met an exciting milestone this spring when Mario Cucinella Architects completed a sculptural home in the Italian city of Ravenna. The fact that the 645-square-foot TECLA home took just 200 hours to build is impressive enough in its own right. But whereas most 3D-printed structures are made from concrete, a material with a less-than-stellar environmental footprint, TECLA is made of locally-sourced raw earth. As 3D printing technology and sustainable materials meet, we could be getting a glimpse of a whole new era of environmentally friendly construction.

Working with 3D printing company WASP, the architecture firm has designed a home that almost seems to rise out of the soil like a living organism.The home’s spherical form takes full advantage of the sculptural abilities of 3D printing, with textural curving walls topped by a giant skylight that lets daylight flood into the interior. The printing process also allows furniture and fixtures to be built right into the form, including things like kitchen cabinets. The home includes a bedroom, living area, simple kitchen, and bathroom, as well as a living tree.

TECLA, which takes its name from “technology” and “clay,” is the first eco-habitat to be built with multiple WASP Crane 3D printers. Two printing arms were synchronized as part of the construction using software capable of optimizing movements and avoiding collision, allowing the home to be built much faster than usual. It’s also a striking example of “circular housing,” in which the reusable, recyclable materials taken from the local terrain can be returned to the Earth after the house’s lifespan is over. That makes it a nearly zero-emissions project that can be recreated just about anywhere in the world.

Even better, if this same model is repeated in other locations, it can adapt to the local materials, traditions, and architectural vernacular. Principal architect Mario Cucinella stresses that one of TECLA’s strongest qualities is the fact that it can serve as a response to the changing world climate. It can be especially useful in areas that haven’t been industrialized, allowing them to quickly craft their own sustainable architecture at a low cost using whatever natural materials are available. In this case, the clay abundant in Ravenna offers benefits like thermal mass and natural ventilation, making it self-insulating and energy efficient.

“For this project, Mario Cucinella Architects not only explored housing solutions in formal aesthetic terms, it also studied the building’s shape in relation to its climate and latitude,” the firm says. “In addition, the composition of the earth mixture responds to local climatic conditions and the filling of the envelope is parametrically optimized to balance thermal mass, insulation, and ventilation according to the climate’s needs. TECLA is a composition of two continuous elements that through a sinuous and uninterrupted sine curve culminate in two circular skylights that convey the ‘zenith of light.’”

Taking inspiration from the potter wasp, WASP aims to develop viable construction processes using digital fabrication, producing 3D-printed houses in the shortest possible time and in the most sustainable way possible. “The oldest material and a state-of-the-art technology merge to give new hope to the world,” says WASP’s Massimo Moretti.