SHARJAH—This emirate has a similar appearance to its better-known neighbors Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Sharjah’s downtown area is largely made up of polished skyscrapers and ringed by constructions sites, so it seems like the infrastructural expansion will not be ending soon.
That development, however, relies mainly on migrant construction workers from the Indian subcontinent. Given the risk that the steady flow of labor could run dry, and with an eye to developing useful architectural technology, academics in the United Arab Emirates are developing 3D printing as a way to erect new buildings.
Adil Al-Tamimi, a professor of civil engineering at the American University of Sharjah, hopes technology will help Sharjah and other emirates to continue their growth even if the Gulf states lose their appeal to migrant workers. “There’s a fear here that our labor source could decrease as Pakistan’s and India’s economies do better,” he says. “It may get harder to draw them here for work.”
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The growth rate of Pakistan’s gross domestic product has increased from 1.7 percent in 2010 to 5.8 percent in 2018, according to statistics from the World Bank. By the same measure, India’s economy has been expanding by a rate of between 4 percent and 8 percent almost every year since 1980.
“India today is not like the India of 30 years ago,” says Al-Tamimi. “People may soon think twice before coming here.”
From Dream to Reality
Specifically, Al-Tamimi is developing a new concrete polymer that he hopes will allow future architects to simply 3D-print skyscrapers into existence. That may sound far-fetched, he concedes, but it wasn’t too long ago that a 3D-printed building of any height seemed like a fantasy.
“People started talking about 3D-printed concrete about ten years ago, but it was only theoretical,” he says. “Even five years ago a small villa was a dream, but it’s a reality now. We even have one on campus.”