First, Dutch design firm DUS Architects created a 3D-printed canal house out of the largest portable 3D printer. Then, Russian company Apis Cor made a 3D-printed house in less than 24 hours out of unique polymers and plasters.
Now, the latest 3D-printed home is made by Austin-based construction startup ICON.
ICON’s 3D-printed home debuted at SXSW last week, and won the festival’s accelerator “Pitch Event,” a contest in which 50 tech startups pitched their innovations to a panel of judges.
Unlike previous 3D-printed housing companies, which designed homes for artistic and monetary purposes, ICON will create its high-tech homes for charity.
ICON will partner with New Story, a company that has built houses in Haiti, Africa, and Bolivia and produce 100 homes in El Salvador. ICON and New Story hope to make a dent in the world’s housing crisis, starting in Central America’s most densely populated country.
Homes for Charity
In El Salvador, nearly 1 million people—60 percent of the nation’s population—live in adequate housing.
ICON isn’t the first nonprofit to aiming to combat El Salvador’s housing crisis. Habitat for Humanity has produced thousands of homes since 1992, and Homes from the Heart has made 400 homes since 2001. Though ICON will produce fewer homes, its designs will be significantly sturdier than the existing homes. The model will also be more durable than traditional 3D-printed houses, which are often made of plastic.
ICON will use its custom-made Vulcan 3D-printer to make the houses out of cement. Unlike other 3D printers, ICON’s technology creates minimal waste, operates on low power, and produces each house for a cost of $10,000. The Vulcan also boasts a speedy production time, and can complete a house in 12-24 hours.
The 800-square-foot house includes a living room, bedroom, a bathroom and a porch. The SXSW model was decorated with Cacti, wooden furniture and geometric-printed rugs, giving it appropriate Southwestern vibes.
ICON’s portable, flexible printer fulfills New Story’s “participatory design” standards. New Story, which serves to benefit communities in a holistic way, required that construction occur locally so that prospective owners can customize their homes. This will also create jobs in El Salvador, where nearly 35 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. ICON will deliver its printer to the El Salvador later this year to complete the project. ICON plans to complete the 100 homes by late 2019.
While New Story prioritizes helping local communities, ICON’s focus is still the technology.
According to the company’s site, “Through advanced robotics and cutting-edge materials, we are able to provide sustainable solutions to a number of our world’s most pressing issues.”
ICON’s future projects are also technologically ambitious. The company plans to create robots that can install doors and windows in the houses, and want to construct a drone that can paint the house’s exterior walls. In the more distant future, ICON also wants to take its innovative living structures to outerspace.
But we’ll need more 3D-printed houses on Earth first. Similar to autonomous cars, 3D-printed houses won’t be available to the masses for quite some time, according to New Story Cofounder and COO Alexandria Lafci.
“It will take many years before 3-D-printed homes are printing the types of homes that you and I would live in, but the tech is ready now to print very high-quality, safe homes in the places we’re building,” Lafci said.