A construction technology company, ICON is a pioneer in 3D printed homes in the United States. Having completed over twelve 3D printed structures across Texas and Mexico, ICON aims to revolutionize the way we build homes by developing futuristic construction technologies that use robotics, software and advanced building materials.
3D printed homes: A reality
Partnered with Kansas City developers, 3S strands and designed by an Austin-based firm, Logan Architecture, ICON unveils plans for USA’s first 3D printed homes for sale, in Austin, Texas.
The multi-home project, an ensemble of four buildings, is a series of two-to-four-bedroom dwellings designed to cope with extreme weather conditions. The printing of the houses has been completed, and the homes are currently being fitted to be ready for the families to move in this summer.
These 2–4-bedroom homes ranging from 1000sqft to 2000sqft in size utilize ICON’s Vulcan construction system to build each unit. The first floor of each house is 3D printed using ICON’s advanced building material called Lavacrete, a proprietary cement blend, extruded layer by layer to give a distinct textured façade.
The material is tested to be more resilient and can withstand fire, winds, floods, seismic forces and other natural disasters. Given the material is essentially concrete, the houses are more durable and resilient compared to conventional wood-based homes. Moreover, the material is resistant to water, mold, termites and rot.
In 2019, ICON had developed seven 3D printed houses at Community First! Village in Austin to provide for those who were formerly underprivileged and homeless. These one-storeyed, 400sqft homes have already withstood particularly harsh and cold storms of Texas that occurred earlier, last year. Thus, proving the resiliency of the 3D printed houses.
How are they made?
Once the foundation is laid and cured, two rails are fixed to the edge of the foundation, over which, Vulcan, a mobile gantry-style 3D printer extrudes the material, lavacrete in layers. The printer operates on a tablet-based control and an automated delivery system.
On completion of the first floor using the 3D printer, the second floor is built conventionally. As for the final finishes including the roof, windows, doors and electrical/plumbing fittings, the openings and arrangements are done prior, while the fitting is done conventionally on completion.
What are they like?
The walls are well-insulated and the houses are equipped with central heating systems to achieve high levels of comfort and ambient air conditioning performance. The houses feature an open floor plan that is functional and flexible and include private yards, covered front porches and parking, minimalistic interiors, vaulted master bedroom, large windows and high-performance HVAC.
The interiors of each house are designed by Austin-based designer, Claire Zinnecker and showcase minimalistic design elements and a neutral colour palette featuring wood, metal finishes, and earthy tile colours.
Is 3D printing the future of affordable and resilient housing?
Each house takes about five to seven days to print and the cost for the printed portion is said to be 10-20% lower than the cost of a house of similar size and quality. The 3D printing technology was specifically developed for the developing world, considering the site characteristics, materials and weather differ from place to place.
The 3D printing machine, Vulcan is mobile and builds home on-site in a continuous fashion. The company claims that the printing is faster and more accurate than manual labour thus making the houses cost-efficient and sturdy.
Owing to the constraints of conventional construction techniques, 3D printing offers speed and produces a continuous, intact building envelope thus resulting in comfort and thermal efficiency. It replaces the multi-systems of building into one integrated technology (foundation, insulation, structure, interior and exterior enclosures, etc.), reducing the overall time for construction while producing minimal waste.
3D printing has also opened a wide array of possibilities like constructing in curved and non-uniform shapes. This is particularly where 3D printing might excel, to outdo traditional and conventional methods to produce a cheaper, faster and most often at a consistent and greater quality.
Jason Ballard, the co-founder of ICON, noted that “There is an extreme lack of housing that has left us with problems around supply, sustainability, resiliency, affordability and design options. With ICON’s 3D printing technology, we anticipate more high-velocity progress in the years ahead to help bring housing and construction into the modern world and in-line with humanity’s highest hopes.”
Although the current technology that ICON utilizes caters to single-storeyed structures only, with further advancement in technology, multi-storey 3D printing is not a distant dream, similar to how 3D printing of houses is no longer merely a concept but a reality.