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3d Printed Homes for the Chronically Homeless

A revolutionary approach to affordable, dignified housing designed with and for the homeless community.

Photo of Brannon Veal

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Worldwide, over 1 billion people lack affordable housing. Natural disasters, high construction costs, slow construction methods, limited infrastructure, and insufficient construction workforces are key contributing factors. Poorly constructed homes are at highest risk from natural disasters, with low-income households affected most. Housing affordability is also a challenge in the U.S. In central Texas and the Gulf Coast, for example, thousands of families in recent years have become homeless or been displaced due to the lack of affordable and resilient housing. ICON’s 3D printing technology offers a way to build affordable and safe homes globally. 3D printing in construction involves extruding, or “printing,” concrete over a pre-programmed path to deposit a layer of concrete. By adding successive layers, the 3D printer gradually constructs the planned structure. A 3D printed home has a long functional lifespan (> 100 years) and can be built in a few days with widely available materials at much lower cost than conventional construction. 3D printed homes also have superior resistance to fire and other natural forces. 3D printing simplifies construction greatly, reducing the need for skilled labor. Moreover, 3D printing enables home designs customized to residents' needs and desires. In 2019, we began building a community of 3D printed homes in Austin, Texas, for people emerging from chronic homelessness. We seek support to continue construction.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Our idea is applicable worldwide to the challenge of building affordable and resilient housing. In this project, we will build homes at the Community First! Village in Austin, Texas, for people emerging from chronic homelessness. Homelessness has increased in Austin over the last several years due in part to rising costs of housing and the influx of people displaced from the Gulf Coast by hurricanes. This project serves as a model for one kind of response to homelessness.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

ICON's mission is to use 3D printing to deliver affordable, safe, and dignified homes. Community First! Village provides housing to the homeless as part of an holistic approach to rebuilding lives. Community First! offers supportive services and amenities to address individuals' relational needs at less cost than traditional housing initiatives. Community First! empowers residents to build relationships and experience healing and restoration as part of engaging with a broader community.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

ICON's purpose is to build affordable, safe, and dignified homes, not just housing. Affordable housing often has sterile, strictly utilitarian, and uniform designs, with little attention to inhabitants' individual needs, preferences, and sensitivities. ICON's software translates building designs into printable structures. ICON is aims to assemble a large catalog of home designs that residents, builders, and architects can select or modify to make the design process easy and enjoyable. Individuals can also contribute their own designs. The end result is a participatory design process in which homes are tailored to their inhabitants. We will use this process to design the homes we build at Community First! Village.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Without more affordable homes, homelessness will persist. In this project, we will print homes for dozens of men, women, and children who are emerging from chronic homelessness. These homes are crucial for these individuals and families as they rebuild their lives and re-integrate into the broader Austin community. This project represents the next step toward an enduring solution to the challenge of homelessness and affordable housing in our area. The lessons from our experience in this project will allow us to refine our path-breaking model for responding to homelessness. We will document all aspects of our work and report on the outcomes, including how the homes have affected the new residents. Then we will share our results widely so others across the U.S. and world can benefit from our experience. This project may help spark a 3D printing revolution in the construction of affordable homes.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Current construction methods cannot meet the demand for affordable and resilient housing. 3D printing can make affordable and safe housing a reality for many of those who lack it. Construction and operation of buildings account for more than one-third of global energy use. Conventional construction also involves a large amount of waste -- 4 tons for a typical new home in the U.S. Through automation and reduced transport of materials and workers, 3D printing involves much less energy than conventional construction and nearly zero waste. ICON is also innovating wall systems that will make 3D printed homes especially energy efficient for heating and cooling. Furthermore, ICON 3D printed homes conserve resources with their centuries long functional lifespans. In Austin, the lack of affordable housing has pushed many into homelessness, as in other U.S. cities and elsewhere. We are inspired to use breakthrough technology to help our neighbors in need, both in Austin and around the world.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

From 2010 to 2015, the cost of living in Austin rose 37% and it is still rising. Local housing costs outpace annual household income by nearly 750%. Meanwhile, over 99,000 families in Austin do not make a living wage. Furthermore, the two most lethal hurricanes in Texas history struck the Gulf Coast recently (Harvey in 2017 and Ike in 2008), sending many displaced people to Austin. Homelessness in Austin has increased steadily over the last 3 years. Austin is an ideal setting to demonstrate the potential of 3D printing to increase the supply of affordable and safe housing.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

Community First! Village is part of a comprehensive effort to end homelessness in Austin led by the nonprofit charity Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MBL). Since 1998, MBL has provided food, clothing, hygiene products, and other essentials to the homeless through street outreach with a fleet of food trucks. MBL founded Community First! Village in 2015 to establish permanent homes for the homeless along with community amenities (e.g., a market), support services, and social enterprises (e.g., a farm, catering service, and screen printing service) that Village residents and other Austinites run together. The 51-acre Village has 170 residents who live in RVs and micro-homes of various types. ICON printed one of these homes in May 2019. In this project, we will print homes for the next phase of the Village's development. Once the Village is complete, it will be home for 500 formerly homeless people, representing 40% of Austin's homeless.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

This project is a partnership between ICON, Build with Humanity, and Mobile Loaves and Fishes. ICON is the global leader in 3D printing for construction. ICON will print the homes at the Community First! Village. Build with Humanity will gather insight from the Village community, and conduct other research and devise strategy on how 3D printing can be best used to meet the demand for affordable housing. Mobile Loaves and Fishes is developing the Community First! Village as a master planned community that provides affordable, permanent homes and a supportive community for individuals and families coming out of chronic homelessness. Working together, we will meet an urgent local need while advancing a model for closing the global gap in affordable housing.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Arriving and settling at a destination community

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Technology-enabled: Existing approach is more effective or scalable with the addition of technology

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Early Adoption: We have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have proof of user uptake (i.e. 16% to 49% of the target population or 1,000 to 50,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Icon Technology Inc, Build with Humanity, Mobile Loaves and Fishes: Community First! Village

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

ICON was founded in 2017 to make affordable and resilient homes and other buildings available worldwide with 3D printing. ICON has set the standard for both technology and execution by building the world’s largest construction 3D printer, the first fully automated material delivery system, and the most robust software platform in the industry. In March 2018, ICON printed the first permitted 3D printed home in the USA in less than 24 hours with its first generation 3D printer, the Vulcan I. In May 2019, with its second generation printer, the Vulcan II, ICON printed a second home in Austin at the Community First! Village. Now, in the summer of 2019, ICON is printing more buildings–a whole community of homes–in an impoverished area in Latin America than has ever been attempted by any company anywhere. Build with Humanity is a previous challenge finalist that uses equity centered design to put the needs of under-served communities at the center of the innovation process.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • Other

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Austin, TX

Attachments (1)

(2) Community_Research Mid Term report.pdf

Research from 20 interviews conducted in a low income neighborhood in Austin. Results of the final report will focus on how we can consider the lived experience of the community in shaping the future of affordable housing through 3d printing.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hi Brannon Veal! still amazed at this innovation. Quite novel and appears the next wonder of the world. However, is this method of constructing homes capable of sustaining multi-storey buildings?

Photo of Brannon Veal

Hello Uchenna, We are doing structural tests that seem to indicate that going to two stories is feasible. our lavacrete material has a compression strength of 6000 psi which is about as strong as an airport runway. We are focused on refining our technology on 1 story homes first, but eventually plan to attempt 2 story. The structural engineer tests to do so take a while, we want to ensure quality and safety.

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