Seeking to "create a world where no human being lives in survival mode," housing charity New Story has been doing some fantastic and refreshingly transparent work since it was founded in 2014.
To date, the San Francisco-based nonprofit has built upwards of 1,300 homes spread across 10 communities in impoverished areas of Haiti, Bolivia and El Salvador. The disaster-resilient homes are designed specifically with the needs and wants of the intended inhabitants in mind. They're also crowdfunded by individual donors, each of whom receives a video of a family moving into their new digs when all is said and done. (New Story is quick to emphasize that all donated funds go directly to the cost of building each home.) And after every new build is complete, New Story continues to tweak and improve its methods via an impact data program that enables home recipients to be part of the process well after they’ve settled in.
And although New Story strives to work with local laborers and use locally sourced materials when "transforming slums into sustainable communities," it also acknowledges that building homes in developing areas could always be quicker, cheaper and more efficient. This is where Texan construction tech startup ICON comes in.
A home built with speed ... and lots of heart
Based in Austin, ICON has partnered with New Story to build and implement a game-changing 3-D printer dubbed Vulcan that’s capable of churning out a pared-down yet comfortable concrete home in just 12 to 24 hours.
New Story and ICON recently debuted the technology at SXSW in Austin with a snazzy prototype home measuring 650 square feet. The total cost to print the prototype — heralded as the "first permitted, 3D-printed home created specifically for the developing world" — was $10,000. However, the plan is to slash the construction cost to just $4,000. That’s roughly $2,500 less than the amount needed to complete a conventional, non-3-D-printed New Story abode, which typically requires two to three weeks to construct.
The single-story residence features a living area, bedroom, bathroom and spacious wrap-around porch. (The Vulcan can churn out habitable structures as large as 800 square feet, which, as The Verge points out, is a sizable step up from typical tiny houses.) The goal is to improve and replicate the prototype at an upcoming New Story community in El Salvador, where the on-site printing process would commence in 2018. If all goes as planned, the 100-home community would be finished by 2019. From there, ICON and New Story aim to "democratize the technology to other nonprofits and governments to scale around the world."
Further down the line, New Story and ICON would like to see the technology be put to work in the United States.
”We feel it’s our responsibility to challenge traditional methods and work toward ending homelessness. Linear methods will never reach the billion+ people who need safe homes," New Story CEO Brett Hagler explains in press statement. "By working with ICON and leveraging their 3-D printing innovations, we’re able to reach more families with the best possible shelter solutions, exponentially faster."
Low-cost abodes that are '100 times better'
The Vulcan 3-D printer will not eliminate the need for locally sourced labor and materials in El Salvador, both of which are such an integral, community-strengthening part of the New Story homebuilding process. Electrical wiring, plumbing, painting, window installation roofing and site excavation all, for now, require skilled human hands.
And although the printer itself is large in size, it has been designed to be both portable and capable of operating in scenarios where the normal home-building logistics prove to be challenging:
The printer is designed to work under the constraints that are common in places like Haiti and rural El Salvador where power can be unpredictable, potable water is not a guarantee and technical assistance is sparse. It’s designed to tackle housing shortages for vulnerable populations instead of building with profit motivation.
The Vulcan, named presumably after the fiery Roman god of forging and not extraterrestrial humanoids that have pointy ears and abide by vegetarian diets, is also described as being "near zero-waste." As a press release explains, "housing will feature cutting-edge materials tested to the most recognized standards of safety, comfort and resiliency."
The custom concrete blend used to print each home hardens immediately after it’s squirted out of the printer in 1-inch-thick strands which give the building's walls a striking coiled appearance. As ICON co-founder Evan Loomis tells Quartz, it takes a few days for the walls to completely harden to a cinderblock-level strength, although residents can move into the homes much sooner.
In the immediate future, ICON plans to turn the prototype home into an office-cum-living laboratory before descending on rural El Salvador with a plus-sized 3-D printer. "We are going to install air quality monitors. How does it look, and how does it smell?" ICON co-founder Jason Ballard, who is also co-founder and president of eco-friendly home improvement mini-chain TreeHouse, tells The Verge.
Ballard goes on to acknowledge that there are indeed other companies using 3-D printers to fabricate experimental structures, some of them centered around housing. However, he believes these companies produce homes that "… are printed in a warehouse, or they look like Yoda huts. For this venture to succeed, they have to be the best houses." And as mentioned, the Austin prototype is believed to be first 3-D printed house that’s been approved for occupancy by a local government — no small feat.
"Conventional construction methods have many baked-in drawbacks and problems that we’ve taken for granted for so long that we forgot how to imagine any alternative," says Ballard. "With 3-D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass, and near zero-waste, but you also have speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency, and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability. This isn’t 10 percent better, it’s 10 times better."
Like all New Story homebuilding efforts, the creation of an entire community filled with 3-D printed homes depends on crowdsourced donations. Click here to find out how you can help.