3D Printed Concrete Cabin Explores the Future of Sustainable Design

The Ashen Cabin uses innovative concrete printing and waste wood to bring awareness to the current Emerald Ash Borer infestation

3D Printed Concrete Cabin Explores the Future of Sustainable Design


Ellen Eberhardt


Courtesy HANNAH

Pennsylvania raised and Brooklyn-based, Ellen is a designer, outdoorist, and sometimes dancer.

HANNAH, an experimental design and research studio based in Ithaca, NY uses digital technologies and fabrication techniques to explore the boundaries of sustainable contemporary construction. An ethos dramatically represented by their most recent project, the Ashen Cabin, made in partnership with Cornell University and located in upstate New York.

The prototype structure marries 3D-printing and local wood destroyed by Emerald Ash Borer Beetle. The result is a Gaudi-esque cabin straight from a futuristic Dr. Seuss book.




The cabin’s animated base, floor, chimney, and interior structures were created using 3D-concrete printing, a technique that deploys a continuous layer of concrete atop itself in a pre-programmed shape.

The technique eliminates the use of traditional wasteful formwork, allows the material to be strategically and accurately placed to avoid contamination of surrounding areas, maintains structural integrity, and opens the door to exploration of new, more organic forms. And, as building infrastructure contributes to almost 40% of US CO2 emissions—8% of which the result of concrete use-3D-printing helps to reduce energy consumption overall.

Seeking to make use of the remains of ash trees infested by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetle, HANNAH teamed up with a group of students from Cornell University to create the distinctive wood cladding used on both the interior and exterior of the cabin. To dramatic effect no doubt.



The infested wood is typically left to decompose or burned as waste, as its gnarled shape makes it difficult for sawmills to process. To make use of it nonethless, HANNAH repurposed a robotic arm found on eBAY that runs along the natural curvature of the ash tree logs, cutting thin layers along their natural form.

The uniquely shaped wood paneling highlights the cabin’s black-plywood window frames, door, and roof, and is used to create small canopies and interior surfaces. The wood will eventually fade in color to match the soft gray of the cabin’s concrete base.

Inside, the off-grid cabin is furnished with a bed, small storage bench, fireplace, shelving, and small camping sink-all made in the same concrete, plywood, and ash wood used on the exterior. Foam insulation keeps the space warm in colder months.




Designers behind the project hope the Ashen Cabin brings awareness to the growing infestation of Ash trees in North America (much like the work of artist David Buckley Borden) and how new technologies can seek to remedy the situation by processing irregularly shaped trees, reduce waste material, and maximize wood usage from a single tree.

Although the cabin is not currently available to rent or buy, and is used mainly as an educational tool, HANNAH is prepared to design additional cabins if there is interest. Additional plans are in motion to collaborate with building industry designers to develop a product based on the technology used in Ashen Cabin, too. So stay tuned.

The Ashen Cabin project illustrates how non-traditional and sustainable building techniques can create spaces just as unique and desirable as the ones we already favor.

Published 08-31-2020