• While New Story and ICON developed the 3D-printed house as a $4,000 residential unit for developing countries, the prototype unveiled at SXSW was outfitted like a stylish Marfa AirBnB. Photo by Leonid Furmansky.

In an unassuming backyard on Austin’s east side, nonprofit New Story and construction technologies company ICON teamed to create the first permitted 3D-printed home in the country. Constructed in time for SXSW, the project is meant to provide a blueprint for the potential of technology to transform housing in the developing world. New Story currently works in Mexico, Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia, and has built 850 homes for families in need. By partnering with ICON, they hope to dramatically increase that number. ICON’s 3D printing technology will eventually allow the nonprofit to print single-story homes in under 24 hours for less than $4,000 each.

As a proof of concept, the Austin installation is impressive. The team worked with architects to develop the project. Designed to show off the capabilities of the new technology, the home has walls both straight and curved, giving it the look of an art deco filling station. Inside, the small home boasts a bedroom, living room, office, and a bathroom with just a toilet. Windows keep the space bright, and the concrete walls keep the space cool. Staged with kilims and bohemian furnishings, the prototype feels like a Marfa Airbnb. Aside from the design, the house has few bells and whistles, prioritizing efficiency and constructability. Future models may include a kitchen.

The specially designed 3D printer has been built and tested to work under the constraints of sites in the developing world, where access to power and potable water is not always easy. Critically, the proprietary small-aggregate cementitious material used by the printer does not contain any materials that would be unobtainable in these countries. The printer itself is the largest of its type, and with an axis set upon a track, it has a theoretically unlimited print area. For now, plans are for structures of 600 sf to 800 sf, but the machine is capable of printing any 2D floorplan.

New Story plans to take the printer into the field within the next 18 months, starting in El Salvador. Before the first family can move in, the concept will go through more rigorous testing, including seismic and safety tests. Currently, the nonprofit provides four jobs per home constructed in the field. With the printer, the amount of labor needed is expected to decrease dramatically. Some local labor will still be required, and materials will also be sourced locally.

Both companies are hopeful that advances in technology can be harnessed to help alleviate global housing shortages. “Instead of waiting for profit motivation to bring construction advances to the Global South, we are fast-tracking innovations like 3D home printing that can be a powerful tool toward ending homelessness,” says Alexandria Lafci, New Story’s COO. 3D printing provides an affordable, sustainable, nearly zero-waste process — essential when envisioning a better future for housing.

Alyssa Morris is web editor of Texas Architect.

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