“It is difficult to build utopian housing in a non-utopian world,” writes Rachel Monroe in this feature on 3-D-printed construction. But Jason Ballard, the co-founder of Icon, a construction startup in Austin, Texas, is determined to do just that. Icon uses a largely automated process to create houses one layer at a time, typically with cement. The company is one of the biggest and most well-funded ventures in the construction space, and even has a NASA contract to develop technology to build lunar structures. It has the potential to show the world that 3-D-printing can be a less expensive alternative, and one that produces more resilient, sustainable housing.
But is the industry ready for this disruption?
A printer can create the shell of a simple building in as little as twenty-four hours, although real-world conditions (rain, cold temperatures, operator error) slow the process. In the past two years, as Icon has expanded, its fleet of printers, called Vulcans, has printed military barracks, disaster-resilient houses, a luxury residence, and, at the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, a full-sized simulation of a Martian habitat, for nasa. Other 3-D-printing companies have produced an apartment building, a houseboat in the Czech Republic, and a house for Habitat for Humanity. Dubai has pledged that, by 2030, a quarter of its new construction will be printed.