Could These 3D-Printed Homes Solve Homelessness?

ICON 3D-printed a 500-square-foot building in 27 hours, and they're just getting started.

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Courtesy Industry West

As the city of Austin, Texas has grown as a creative and tech hub over the past few years, something far less positive has grown, too: the city's homeless population. This week, a team spanning architecture, design, and technology debuted a radical new proposal to stem this growth using 3D printing.

In a partnership with Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit serving Austin's community, 3D printing company ICON debuted the first building in a proposed community of 3D-printed structures to house Austin's homeless. The 500-square-foot Welcome Center was printed over a span of 27 hours, then decorated by designer Claire Zinnecker using furniture donated by Industry West.

“At Industry West, we believe the spaces that help individuals heal or learn are just as important as the hotels and restaurants that we furnish every day," says Industry West cofounder and President of Social Responsibility Anne England. Industry West's involvement came about when Zinnecker, a longtime client, approached the brand about donating to outfit the welcome center.

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"Utilizing bright colors, interesting shapes and warm natural materials, we created a space that makes visitors feel comfortable from the moment they walk i," says designer Claire Zinnecker.
Courtesy Industry West

"The welcome center is so important," Zinnecker tells House Beautiful. "This is where people are signing a contract for their home, quite possibly their first ever." As such, she explains, "the design objective was to create an office space that felt like a home."

The designer used plenty of natural materials, pops of color, and greenery for a space she describes as "welcoming as well as calming."

The Welcome Center—which was designed by architect Andrew Logan— is just the beginning of the project. ICON plans to 3D print six total homes in the near future.

"The Welcome Center is in the heart of Phase II of the neighborhood," explains ICON CEO and cofounder Jason Ballard of the proposed village, dubbed Community First! "The Village overall provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for men and women coming out of chronic homelessness."

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Warm wood and plenty of greenery bring an organic quality to the cement structure.
Courtesy Industry West

Importantly, Ballard tells House Beautiful, that community must expand beyond just the homeless population. "The program exists to love and serve Austin’s neighbors who have been living on the streets, while also empowering the surrounding community into a lifestyle of service with the homeless," he says.

With its cutting-edge technology, ICON is uniquely poised to solve one of the most enduring problems of urban communities. "It’s our mission at ICON to make dignified, affordable homes available to everyone, everywhere," Ballard says. "With more than 1.6 billion people living without adequate shelter and home prices continuing to climb, we believe it’s time for a paradigm shift in homebuilding."

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The bathroom in the welcome center.
Courtesy Industry West

In addition to its work in Austin, ICON has been involved in building 3D structures in Latin America through the nonprofit New Story.

"Conventional construction is slow, fragmented, wasteful, and has poor thermal properties which increase energy use, increase operating costs, and decrease comfort," Ballard says. "Also, conventional materials like drywall and particle board are some of the least resilient materials ever invented. By contrast, 3D printing offers benefits such as speed and lack of manual labor." As a material, "concrete is well understood, affordable and resilient."

The project, says England, "points to a new way of homebuilding and thinking about design. ICON is thinking outside of the box and Claire is doing the same thing. We are excited to be a part of this forward-thinking project."

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