ICON Tackles Affordable Housing at SXSW 2023 with 3D Printing Competition


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Construction firm, 3D printer manufacturer, or both? No matter its formal category, the Austin-based construction technology company ICON is, above all, at the forefront of the digital possibilities of additive construction. Whether it’s enabling building engineering on Earth or envisioning the future of humankind in orbit, the company has been taking leaps since its creation in 2017.

The Vulcan 3D printer from ICON. The Vulcan 3D printer from ICON. Image courtesy of ICON.

Adding to its outstanding portfolio this year was a recently announced project to recreate the El Cosmico hotel in Marfa, Texas, using 3D printing and a 100-house addition to the Wolf Ranch, the largest 3D printed community in the world. Then, as if that wasn’t enough to fill the first months of 2023, the company just revealed details of a new global architectural competition titled Initiative 99 to reimagine affordable housing with a $1,000,000 prize fund, along with the unveiling of a new 3D printed performance pavilion at Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts.

Announced during the 2023 South by Southwest (SXSW) event in Austin, Texas, Initiative 99 calls on the architectural community to design homes that can be built for under $99,000 and are “accessible, beautiful, and dignified.”

As an official 2023 SXSW partner, ICON will host the special event “A Moonshot for Affordable Housing” on March 15, 2023, at 2:30 PM, featuring a panel conversation with ICON CEO and Co-founder Jason Ballard, BIG Founder and Creative Director Bjarke Ingels, the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture Dean Michelle Addington and Director of Architecture and Site Development at Mobile Loaves & Fishes Sarah Satterlee. Attendees will hear from the experts during the panel presentation and participate in a reception and concert at the brand’s aforementioned newly unveiled 3D printed performance pavilion in The Long Center for the Performing Arts in the heart of Austin.

For several years the SXSW festival has showcased achievements in 3D printing. In fact, during last year’s SXSW festival, ICON opened the doors to its “House Zero” for tours. Considered a major advancement in modern architecture, the house was one of the most outstanding displays at the event.

During this festival edition, ICON is clearly the front-runner regarding 3D printing innovations. However, other companies are also participating, including re:3D, makers of the world’s most affordable large-scale 3D printer, and 3D knitting fashion-tech incubator Variant 3D.

Interior 3D printed home. Image courtesy of ICON.

Registration for the Initiative 99 competition opens in the summer of 2023, and architects from all over the world, including firms, individuals, and university students, are encouraged to participate. Furthermore, ICON has committed to building a selection of winning designs at multiple locations to be announced in the future.

“We need a moonshot for affordable housing, and I believe Initiative 99 will be the most important architectural competition in history,” said Ballard. “The current affordable housing landscape seems to have been designed and built without taking beauty, aesthetics, comfort, sustainability, and resiliency as serious requirements. It’s time we attack this problem just as energetically as we’ve addressed other human challenges in the past.”

According to ICON, the vision of a home with construction costs under $99,000 has inspired and motivated city planners, developers, government officials, and non-profit organizations for decades. For that reason, Initiative 99 will help unite the global architectural, design, and building community in a shared mission to build a better future for those that need it most.

Ballard adds, “with Initiative 99, we are changing how we talk about affordable housing. When we talk about affordable housing, the conversation is often depressing, and so are the results. Our goal is that Initiative 99 would, in turn, create the conditions for affordable housing to be hopeful, optimistic, and exciting. Furthermore, it catalyzes the building of some incredibly affordable homes that would have been impossible just years ago. The future could be a wonder, but we have to all work together to make it so.”

Barriers are inhibiting affordable real estate developments within communities that need them most. From overwhelming construction and land costs to stringent building codes, the need for programs to address these issues is imminent. In addition, the current approach to homebuilding and managing the global housing crisis is not working, as more than 1.2 billion people globally lack adequate shelter. Although the path to addressing this shortage is not an easy one, ICON has been at the helm of 3D printed housing efforts since the get-go.

Interior 3D printed home. Image courtesy of ICON.

For the Initiative 99 contest, a  jury consisting of an expert panel of architects, academic leaders, policymakers, and non-profit organizations are committed to realizing affordable housing solutions. A few of the names include several ICON executives like  Melodie Yashar, VP of Building Design and Performance, as well as representatives from BIG, the City of Austin, and the UN Habitat’s Housing Unit.

Registration for the competition opens in the Summer of 2023, and anyone interested in signing up to learn more can do so at the following link.

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