Interview: The first one-piece-3D-printed house

A world first! Kamp C, the Westerlo-based provincial Centre for Sustainability and Innovation in construction, printed a house using the largest 3D concrete printer in Europe. An interview with Annelies Helsen about ViCre's role in this unique, innovative project.

The house was printed as part of the European C3PO Project. How did ViCre get involved?

Annelies Helsen:  "We are a non-substantive player in the construction industry. We support national and international companies of various industries during their innovation and transformation journeys, and we make sure that this transformation is supported by their employees and the environment. Because we are an independent player, we can look with fresh eyes at the day-to-day reality our customers are working in, and offer a neutral ground for collaboration."

Could you describe ViCre's role in co-creation projects in a few words?

Annelies Helsen: "In a nutshell, we keep the general overview, provide all stakeholders with a helicopter view to the project, and make sure that all partners move in synergy from A to B. Our specific role was to watch over the alignment, to make sure all noses were pointing in the same direction, to keep everyone focussed on their specific role, and to ensure a project development rhythm, guaranteeing follow-through and thus progress."

What convinced you to contribute to this particularly challenging project?

Annelies Helsen: "We immediately wanted to participate in C3PO. First of all, because of the highly innovative and transformative nature of the project. Both strategy development and implementation are our core business, our hobby. For us, it thus only seemed logical to contribute to a project that potentially was revolutionary in the construction industry. Secondly, because we highly value corporate social responsibility in business and industry developments. Playing our part in a project that helps creating a more sustainable and ecological construction industry, perfectly fits in this perspective."

Given your experience with innovation and transformation projects, what challenges did you anticipate to manage?

Annelies Helsen: "It is a project with many partners, all with different professional backgrounds. This is fun and interesting, but also complex. Each of them joined from their own perspective, with their own goals in mind.

To move forward in a multistakeholder set-up like this, it's very important that from the very beginning of the project, every single project partner feels that by working together, they can add something, and get something in return. At the end of the day, everyone wants to experience some added value: by building deep industry knowledge, improving their network, creating brand exposure, encountering new business opportunities, …"

How did you overcome these differences?

Annelies Helsen: "At first, the different starting points and goals from each partner were a challenge: we needed to create a common vision, and make everyone align with that vision. This is an incremental, iterative process. You need a lot of discussion, a lot of questioning and answering, until you establish common ground to work on. If you do this in an organised, respectful way, you can create a lot of goodwill and a very constructive dialogue. After a while you create awareness and engagement, and a uniform vision that is supported by all the partners.

Another operating point was to focus on the market, and to not get lost in the technical aspects of the project. All partners were somehow specialists in this particular area of expertise. By experience, we know that expert people, because they are so committed to the cause, have a tendency to lose themselves in the technical part of the story. Bringing the focus back to the market, to the target public was crucial, as well during the initial set-up as during project launch.

A last challenge we dealt with was making sure there was enough project follow-up, progress monitoring and communication during the actual development and printing of the house."

What are the next steps?

Annelies Helsen: "Developing a new path of co-creation with more and different partners to upscale the project is yet to come. New partners will have to join and will have to cooperate to find new solutions and take the project to the next level. Solutions to what future challenges and what they will look like, we don’t know yet. However, what we do know is that we will follow the same approach."

Can you share that approach with us?

Annelies Helsen: "Of course! Our recipe for success is actually quite simple. To launch and develop a new project, we always stick to the same 5-track methodology:

First, we define the scope and direction of the project, and identify its priorities, its main targets, it's like writing a scenario to get from A to B.
Secondly, we make sure there's alignment and buy-in on this plan from all partners and their suppliers.
Next, we start to collect the right expertise and knowledge, and start building the right processes to initiate actions.
Once we're going, we manage member's individual contributions to the project and focus on increasing motivation and accountability.
And ultimately we make sure there's frequent – but not too much! – meeting, reporting and communication about all initiated actions, so people stay informed. You have to provide enough feedback loops in your project architecture to keep it agile.

To make sure things are going the right way, you absolutely need a lot of repetition and rhythm in your project development. So repeat these 5 steps over and over, until you have reached your goal. Project management is a superdynamic process, requiring continuous fine-tuning and real-time adjustments. Even if your project is the size of a whale, it should always move like a pod of dolphins.


This article is part of the C3PO project. The partners received € 668,320 in European grants through C3PO, an ERDF project (‘Co-creation: 3D-printing with companies). The project is also a part of GTI Kempen (GTI stands for Gerichte Territoriale Investering in Dutch, or an integrated territorial investment strategy for a specific region, combining various European funds and programmes).