Austin American-Statesman: More 3D-printed homes destined for Austin homeless community.
Some 300 more tiny houses are coming in an expansion of the Community First Village for people emerging from homelessness in Central Texas, with a half dozen of those “micro homes” to be produced using 3D-printing technology.
Austin-based construction technology firm Icon will print six homes, each about 500 square feet in size, for the Community First Village on Hog Eye Road, which is off Decker Lane in Northeast Austin.
The 3D-printed homes will break ground this fall. For the first time, three homes will be printed simultaneously with the Vulcan II printer, to increase speed and reduce cost, Icon executives said.
Jason Ballard, Icon’s co-founder and CEO, says the new homes will provide “dignified” housing for “some of Austin’s most vulnerable,” employing three-dimensional printing technology that is “just this side of science fiction.”
“There’s never been anything like it before,” Ballard said. “It’s a complete breakthrough.”
Austin-based developer Cielo Property Group is an investor in Icon, a startup with the goal of building affordable housing around the world — turning out homes faster and cheaper than those built using traditional methods, and homes that also are higher-performing, more resilient and more efficient.
Cielo commissioned the Vulcan II printer to churn out “thousands and thousands” of homes in Austin, and Cielo co-CEO Bobby Dillard said the company is committed to such efforts on an ongoing basis.
“The sky’s the limit,” Dillard said of the potential applications for the 3D-printed homes, including to help put a dent in the homeless problem that Austin and other cities are grappling with.
On Tuesday, Icon unveiled a 3D-printed welcome center for the second phase of the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community First Village, a master-planned community that is seen as a national model to help address homelessness.
Printed in less than 27 hours across several days, the 500-square-foot welcome center marks the beginning of a long-term relationship between Icon and the nonprofit to use 3D printing technology to deliver homes for Community First Village. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, toured the welcome center last week in advance of its official public debut.
The center came together through the work of multiple partners. They include Cielo, which last year committed $1 million to provide more permanent housing for people living on Austin’s streets or in shelters; Cedar Creek Interiors; Logan Architecture; Austin interior designer Claire Zinnecker; and Industry West, which donated furnishings and accessories for the welcome center.
Designs created by Logan Architecture for the next phase of Icon’s work at Community First are underway and will feature multiple floor plans.
The houses will have a different look than the welcome center. Along with more private spaces and concealed patios, there also will be shared spaces to continue the sense of community in the village.
Ballard said the 3D-printed housing bound for Community First “is something the city can get excited about versus another ARCH,” referring to the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless, the shelter in downtown Austin where many homeless people congregate on the sidewalks outside, creating concerns including over public safety and crime.
“We couldn’t be happier with how the welcome center turned out,” Ballard said. “I think anyone who sees it will feel like this is a future they can get behind. People can get cynical about issues like homelessness and whether or not it can be solved. I think projects like this give us reasons to be hopeful.”
Vulcan II is Icon’s next-generation printer, the successor to its original 3D printer that Icon debuted in 2018 at South by Southwest. The original printer produced Icon’s prototype home, a 350-square-foot house on Chicon Street that took 47 hours to print, at a cost of about $10,000.
Upon Vulcan II’s unveiling at South by Southwest this year, Ballard said: “We’re in the middle of a global housing crisis and making old approaches at little better is not solving the problem. The homebuilding industry needs a complete paradigm shift.”
In October 2018, Icon closed a $9 million funding round led by Oakhouse Partner and began printing homes with its latest Vulcan II technology this year. Icon and New Story, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, broke ground this year on a community of 3D-printed homes in Latin America for people without access to adequate housing. The exact location remains undisclosed for safety and security reasons.
Icon typically keeps cost figures for its 3D-printed housing close to the vest, but Ballard said that in general the 3D-printed homes cost about 30% less to build than a comparable home constructed by traditional methods.
The homes in the village will be privately funded and rented to people who have been chronically homeless.
Icon’s 3D-printing process for home construction uses robotics, automated material handling, advanced software and a proprietary concrete mixture called Lavacrete, which Icon officials have said withstood every structural test the company has put it through. The homes are “printed” with a computer-controlled concrete-pumping machine.
Doggett said 3D-printed homes are an example of a social issue intersecting with technology and entrepreneurship.
While acknowledging that 3D housing can’t solve the homeless problem, “one of the best ways to deal with homelessness is homes,” Doggett said.
Currently, about 180 formerly homeless men and women live in 220 micro-homes, mobile homes and Air Stream trailers at Community First. The community is the vision of Alan Graham, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes, which feeds the homeless in Central Texas. Graham’s Community First Village aims to provide affordable, permanent housing and on-site job and educational opportunities for people coming out of chronic homelessness in Central Texas.
Graham said Community First takes “the most lost and forgotten men and women that you see standing on our street corners, living under bridges or in urban shelters... into a place that they can call home.”
The village’s second phase will feature 300 micro homes, to be built during the next three years. The expansion will add 24 acres, bringing the total property to 51 acres.
Once completed and at full capacity, Community First will have about 480 formerly homeless residents. Community First Village “is the perfect place on the planet to experiment” with Icon’s approach to housing, Graham said.
For Ballard, Community First’s “non-stop work to love and serve our sisters and brothers experiencing homelessness is inspiring and makes all of us at Icon want to bring the very best of ourselves to the job.”