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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

Written by

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:

https://www.iconbuild.com/ https://www.buildwithhumanity.com/ https://mlf.org/community-first/

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.

19 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Spam
Photo of Uchenna Okafor
Team

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?

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

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.

Spam
Photo of Zulfiqar Deo
Team

Brannon Veal  Thanks for posting the project. Really good to see 3 D printed homes concept. Can't wait to see this take off - all the best with it.

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

Thank you Zulfiqar Deo  I appreciate your support.

Spam
Photo of Anna Fontanini
Team

Hi Brannon Veal ,
The idea is really innovative, but sounds quite utopic...
Would you give the houses for free? How will you sparkle engagement within the community?

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

We have already 3d printed two homes and are in the process of print dozens more, so we are past proof of concept. The houses are not free, but we are aiming to substantially lower the cost of construction on a $ per sq ft. basis. Currently the only structures that the homeless community is using that have a reasonable price point are trailers and tiny homes, however with 3d printed homes we aim to deliver more resilient structures that are much more durable and provide better value long term. In terms of engagement I have completed 40 interviews with families on the verge of displacement. Also 3d printing provides nearly unlimited design flexibility and cost of customization is very low. We aim to use that to design homes that are beautiful, dignified, affordable, and meet the needs of the community. Thanks for you feedback.

Spam
Photo of Uchenna Okafor
Team

A thousand applauds to this noble idea! Nonetheless, disabled persons are worst hit with chronic homelessness in poverty, destitution, and displacement. So, is there any provision to accommodate this most vulnerable group in your design?

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

With 3d printing there is an opportunity for more unconstrained design freedom to accommodate people with disabilities. In the US there is standard compliance requirements in designing for disability. Accessibility is definitely a design consideration.

Spam
Photo of Lesa R. Walker MD, MPH
Team

This is fantastic! Great work Brannon!! You had such great ideas and dedication and are so well connected in the Austin area. I know this will be a success!!

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

thank you Lesa! I look forward to continued work in Austin with OpenIdeo as well as Compassionate Austin.

Spam
Photo of George
Team

Is your organization willing to collaborate with other social organizations using new technology in order to make the most positive impact possible around the world with our combined innovations?

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

We are currently doing that with a collaboration with New Story Charity. https://newstorycharity.org/ and support of Community First! Village. We are currently focusing on a selective scope of projects but eventually hope that our technology can be applied in use cases all over the world. Thanks for your response!

Spam
Photo of George
Team

Thank you for your response Brannon. We would love to collaborate with you in the future. Please send us your email address and we'll provide you with the information you need to see if there is any synergy between our projects? Thanks again! George

Spam
Photo of Gary Frans
Team

3d Printing runs into the same problems as other construction methods as it relates to housing. Cheaper housing gets more people in to cheap housing. Land use without a master plan that enables ownership of the units by the tenants and cheap housing turns into slums. The owners need to be the users, the people actually living there to have pride of ownership. They need to have both the desire and the capability to take care of the property.
Please take a look at my idea Escape Pods For Humanity. Could your 3d printing expertise and desire to help solve the homeless epidemic be used to build mobile, solar/electric one-person motorhomes? I'm thinking basically a bicycle frame type structure, enclosed, one person can sleep or sit in it, a solar panel to recharge a battery, able to move maybe 20 miles or more per daily charge, ac charging optional, USB port for user's personal electronics, enclosed structure that can be locked and secured - a real minimalist type vehicle. Could our ideas be combined?

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

It would be great to connect. for the project proposed the land is specifically set asside for homeless people under the ownership of the non-profit. land use and strategy is a key consideration. each family or individual takes care of their own space and provided an opportunities for jobs and community care an support. it would be great to connect on your project. part of the reason we are 3d printing homes is because they are affordable but last much longer than the trailer homes, and require less maintenance.

Spam
Photo of Gary Frans
Team

Hey Brannon,
My email is gnfrans@gmail.com. I perused your website. It does seem interesting, but many pitfalls may lay ahead. Consolidating homeless tends to aggravate problems. Without users being owners, all types of properties will not be maintained as well as an owner would do it him/herself. Without seeing your site, I do not wish to over draw conclusions in this regard.
If our ideas were combined??? perhaps park or plaza type areas where overnighting in EPs is okay but possibly time limited. Is your 3d printer capable of printing adobe or similar not entirely permanent material like concrete? I'm thinking of temporary supporting structures, creative structures as opposed to traditional homes, customized to location/inhabitant needs, that can be modified, repaired or removed by inhabitant/users (empowering users). -examples: shower stalls, shading/sheltering walls, BBQ pits, various outdoor-type shelters that give an indoor type feel without being indoors. Think of a possible ground layout as a psychedelic combination of a trailer park mixed with Disneyland. Different areas with different centers of conversation. The important thing is space and a freedom to explore to find out what works.
Do your 3d plans include decorative additions? A well placed dinosaur or other amusing character can turn a dump into a show place by spurring amusement and conversation.

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

Overall 3d printing provides an unlimited level of structural customization. It is just as easy to print a straight 3d printed wall as a fibonacci spiral. Currently we are looking at "cementitious" materials that are suitable for homes that are even more structurally sound than traditionally built homes. Our current goal is to build structures that are more permanent. As far as creativety, 3d printing provides the possiblities of very unique and novel architectures that have not been either not possible before OR prohibitively expensive to implement. In the context of the project proposed does not just aggregate homeless but provides a community of healthy and supportive care workers and volunteers, job opportunities, and social events. The philosophy of the community is not merely to house the homeless but to provide them support and a dignified pathway to a thriving life. I think EPs are good solution for crisis level housing where people have no other option other than sleeping outside in unsafe locations. Thanks for your feedback!

Spam
Photo of Rexford Kwabena Essuman
Team

Am also a true believer in 3d printing, how affordable will this project be in developing countries like Ghana.

Spam
Photo of Brannon Veal
Team

Thanks Rexford. That is an eventual goal. To provide affordable resilient shelter for all. Thank you for your comment.