A large-scale neighborhood of 3D printed homes is set to break ground in the Austin, Texas, area in 2022. The 100-home community, co-designed by international architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, will be built using proprietary 3D printing technology from additive construction developer ICON and finished by Lennar, one of the nation’s leading homebuilders.
Designed as a diverse collection of contemporary living spaces, the homes will take on a variety of distinctive spatial concepts. The design itself modernizes the aesthetic of the typical “suburban home,” while the 3D printing technology will texturize and provide distinctive touchpoints for each space. Ultimately, the homes will combine novel building technology with traditional construction materials.
The construction concepts revealed by BIG, ICON, and Lennar explore the freedom of form facilitated by 3D printing that will allow engineers to include sinuous curves on the walls, as well as integrate photovoltaic roofs, which are electricity-generating solar panels that will be positioned on the rooftop of each residential structure. These innovations are significant steps to reduce waste in the construction process and make homes highly resilient, sustainable, and energy self-sufficient.
This newly announced joint venture to develop a new residential project deepens a relationship that began with Lennar’s investment in ICON’s recent $207 million financing round and offers a promising path toward delivering affordable, technology-driven homes that meet rising demand. In fact, this new endeavor is announced at a time when the Central Texas housing market is booming.
Gaining ground as one of the nation’s top thriving tech hubs, Austin has seen its median home price climb to an all-time high of $575,000 in July 2021 and has now settled at $480,000 as real estate markets begin to cool down; still, it reflects a 59% increase in less than five years. As the shifting real estate market continues to impact housing prices, buyers’ rush, and intense bidding wars, there is a 5.5 million shortage of single-family homes across the country, and that number is on the rise.
For aspiring homeowners, the market is challenging, and finding affordable housing has become a nightmare. Aiming to solve this problem, 3D printing construction startups are working tirelessly to deliver better, more resilient, sustainable, and energy-efficient homes at radical speeds, with less waste and more design freedom, without compromising beauty and human dignity.
A pioneer in 3D printed homes in the US, ICON recently completed four houses in the fast-growing East Austin neighborhood, two of which sold within days of their listing in March 2021. Additionally, last year, the team delivered a series of 3D printed homes for 480 homeless individuals, representing about 40% of Austin’s chronically homeless population, and delivered the world’s first community of 3D printed homes in Mexico for families living on $3 a day. By leveraging its innovative proprietary robotics, software, and advanced materials, the startup proves that 3D construction robotics allows homebuilders to radically increase supply, whether solving for social housing demand or creating the most advanced custom builds.
“ICON exists as a response to the global housing crisis and to put our technology in service to the world,” said ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard. “Construction-scale 3D printing not only delivers higher-quality homes faster and more affordably, but fleets of printers can change the way entire communities are built for the better. The United States faces a deficit of approximately 5 million new homes, so there is a profound need to swiftly increase supply without compromising quality, beauty, or sustainability and that is exactly the strength of our technology.”
As one of the fastest-growing additive construction firms, ICON is not only focused on developing its main additive technology to 3D print housing for humans on Earth but has also developed several outstanding projects for NASA. Among them was a 1,700 square-foot 3D printed Martian habitat for the agency’s analog mission in a field test location at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. But keeping construction projects on schedule and budget is only possible thanks to the precision and speed of ICON’s construction 3D printing system, known as Vulcan.
Designed and engineered from the ground up for volume 3D printing, the large-scale Vulcan is capable of printing homes and structures up to 3,000 square feet, built to the International Building Code (IBC) structural code standard and expected to last as long, or longer, than standard Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) built homes. According to the company, Vulcan can produce resilient, single-story homes faster than conventional methods, with less waste and more design freedom. At the same time, advanced materials are considered stronger and longer-lasting than traditional building materials.
With the potential to revolutionize construction, AM is becoming adopted by the industry at scale, and ICON is not the only firm pioneering a niche service that could save homebuilders thousands of dollars. For example, competing firm Mighty Buildings also leveraged 3D printing technologies to build a neighborhood in Rancho Mirage, California. But as demand for housing increases, the biggest challenge for these companies is turning out more construction technologies and materials.
Ballard, whose business now has a valuation of more than $100 million, said he is getting ready to “stand up manufacturing in our new facilities and begin larger-scale projects.” Furthermore, Ballard says that the demand for 3D printed housing has gone through the roof, giving ICON a great reason to continue engaging in new construction developments and eventually disrupting the home construction industry with cheaper and faster technologies.
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