Austin Company Prints 3D-House on Site as Model for Homeless

by on April 12, 2019 · 13 comments

in Homelessness

By Drew Zeiba / Architects Newspaper

“What if you could download and print a house for half the cost?” reads the lede for the Vulcan II, a 3D printer with a name suited for sci-fi space exploration, on the website of Austin-based company ICON. Now the company has put this claim to the test, building what it says is the first permitted 3D-printed home in the United States, unveiled during SXSW.

Using its original Vulcan gantry-style 3D printer, the firm collaborated with global housing nonprofit New Story to build a 650-square-foot home, which features separate bedroom, living, bathroom, and kitchen areas.

The home, called the Chicon House, was printed in under 24 hours and while this test cost around $10,000, the firm estimates that future single-story homes, which could be as large as 2,000 square feet, could be printed for thousands less, around $4,000–$6,500.

According to New Story CEO Brett Hagler, there is a pressing need to “challenge traditional [building] methods” to combat housing insecurity and homelessness. He adds that “linear methods will never reach the over-a-billion people who need safe homes.” ICON hopes to leverage the technology to help combat global housing crises all while being more environmentally friendly, resilient, and affordable.

For links and the balance of this article, please go to Architects Newspaper.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page April 12, 2019 at 11:54 am

If this trend continues, you can add an army of construction workers to the ranks of the homeless.


Eric April 12, 2019 at 12:16 pm

Very true Geoff. There are a ton of articles now addressing the jobs this will eliminate. Another real problem with this construction method is loss and theft of sand. There is only so much available, unlike wood it’s not a renewable resource. Search sand theft, here is one article that popped up which could very well be OB someday.
While this is pretty cool, cheap and fast to build it’s not sustainable.


kh April 12, 2019 at 3:46 pm

Call me confused. This appears to be creating concrete concrete walls. And its unclear if that includes any reinforcement.

It’s not cost prohibitive for humans to build concrete block walls. The costly part is the utilities, finishes, fixtures, not to mention permitting and design fees that make it into a house.

So perhaps the technology has a place in construction, but it’s by no means a magic bullet for building cheap homes. Sounds like a complicated solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.


retired botanist April 12, 2019 at 5:02 pm

Nothing complicated about it and the problem exists big time- it has to start with a mindset of “live small”. Yes, utilities, land purchase, and siting, etc are issues that have to be addressed, and I acknowledge that these are definite obstacles. But until we can, culturally, adapt our vision to a significant belt-tightening and down-scaling, this life-style concept will remain in the fringes. We need to be advocates for this kind of change. I get Geoff’s perspective and concerns about job losses, but if we can put these same jobs to a new purpose and direction, this is the change we need to see. Not just subsidizing and endorsing the employment of making automobiles and big construction projects, but instead lifting up this very same labor force to a new vision. I’ve been an advocate of the tiny house movement for awhile now, and its discouraging that the designers are out there, but the communities aren’t receptive…


kh April 15, 2019 at 10:30 am

That’s a lot of big words, but what does it have to do with pouring concrete from an expensive 3D printing contraption vs using manual labor?


retired botanist April 15, 2019 at 11:09 am

No big words there. the relevant words are affordability and availability. a possibly expensive (likely soon to get cheaper) contraption generating a structure vs. a couple dozen laborers and all the headache and hassle of contracting companies and people (carpenters, concrete layers). Think kit home but more efficient!


Geoff Page April 15, 2019 at 12:48 pm

retired botanist, I agree with your point about tiny houses. My house is on the border of that category at about 1,000/sf. In places with rough weather, people build big homes because they spend much of their time inside. I never understood why a big house is needed here in San Diego with the great weather we have. But, my point was about the continuing disappearance of jobs. What you said is what I often read “put these jobs to a new purpose and direction.” What would that be? So many regular jobs have disappeared and continue to disappear, what would you have people do? This is happening all over the world, even in China. I saw a documentary where a factory dropped its labor force from 3500 to 800 by using robots. One day, there will be a world full of people who cannot find a job to do and unless that is addressed, it will get ugly. The savings by eliminating all that labor go to the very few who may one day find themselves in front of a guillotine when regular people have had enough.


retired botanist April 15, 2019 at 1:49 pm

yep, I get those points and they are significant. Its hard to imagine how to re-purpose goods, nevermind people. And of course, everything revolves around the need for a re-distribution of wealth. But I think we’re prone to a certain amount of denial in this category, as we are with climate change. We get cynical about concepts like refitting all our fossil-fuel machinery, and we focus on the economy of job creation instead of what KIND of job creation…
I have some friends who built a tiny back house out of a minimal wooden frame and then they used a recycled washing machine and old newspapers to make papercrete. The same friends converted their diesel VW to run on used vegetable oil, both projects had some hard-learned mistakes, haha, but the learning curve was instructive!
Europe has been pretty innovative with new ideas on small dwellings for the homeless and smaller scale energy generating; I’d like to see some of those ideas tried here in the US. And I’m optimistic that if we can endorse the projects, whether its refitting with solar panels and small wind eggbeaters (vs. tearing up the deserts with giant turbine farms!), or re-purposing shipping containers for dwellings, the jobs will follow :-)


Geoff Page April 15, 2019 at 2:28 pm

I don’t disagree with any of that, but just focusing on the original thought about construction jobs, tiny houses can easily be 3D printed and shipping containers are already built, they would only need a few modifications. For the housing and homeless problems, these are fine ideas. I think if we provided a person enough space to get in out of the elements and be able to sleep feeling secure, that would be a big lift. Add a bathroom and cooking facilities and it would be enough for anyone for a while at least. But, if the trends in AI continue, there will be a lot of former construction workers who will need these tiny houses. That was my original point. And, housing isn’t enough for a fuller life, people need to feel useful by working at something. Maybe the alternative energy work will help but it won’t be enough.


Gilbert E Field April 12, 2019 at 4:31 pm

Building small or tiny homes has always been relatively easy an cheap.

But where to put them with land in SD costing between $1 million an acre to infinity.

Solve the land issue and the house production is easy.

Until then, no progress.


Gary Huber April 14, 2019 at 1:33 pm

Yeah, I wonder about the concrete. How do you print rebar?


Geoff Page April 15, 2019 at 12:50 pm

Gary, they don’t need rebar, they are experimenting with all kinds of mixtures that contain fibers instead. And, these machines are incredible, they can print anything now, probably even a rebar made of materials other than steel.


Vern April 16, 2019 at 6:49 am

More people, more problems.
ZPG should be more seriously considered.


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