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Austin groups 3D-print tiny homes to help end homelessness: Updated

Local activation of cutting-edge tech for social good could have worldwide implications

New 3D-printed homes at Community First Village

Update (March 13): Icon is in the process of completing a set of six 3D-printed homes at Community First Village, for which it partnered with Austin-based Cielo property group to completed a test run in September, printing an office for the community to use in its second phase of development. Icon printed the first test home for a planned 50 units for low-income families in Tabasco, Mexico.

September 10, 2019: Community First Village, run by Mobile Loaves and Fishes to provide permanent, personal housing and services for homeless people in Austin, had quite the breakthrough day Monday. Partnering with Austin-based Icon and and Cielo property group, it opened the second phase of its development with a 3D-printed prototype house that will serve as a welcome center for the community. The 500-square-foot building took a total of 27 hours to print.

That was only the beginning, according to said Alan Graham, founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves & Fishes: “ICON is pushing the envelope and is technologically laying out a new way of looking at how we build homes,” he said. “One of our desires is that this partnership with ICON will grow so deep that we’re able to leverage this technology to someday build all of our microhomes in future phases of the village.” Graham and the nonprofit he heads hope to “demonstrate why Community First! Village is at the epicenter of innovation in our country in terms of communities and movements that are effectively addressing homelessness.”

It’s a point that would be hard to argue. ICON, which uses robotics, software, and advanced materials (including its proprietary “Lavacrete”) to remove numerous barriers in the contemporary building industry, debuted its first 3D printer and the country’s first permitted, 3D-printed home in at SXSW 2018 in Austin. That home was a prototype made in partnership with internationally focused housing nonprofit New Story. (That project seems to have gotten off the ground, bringing on marquee designer Yves Béhar to work on a community of the homes, planned to provide low-income housing in an undisclosed Latin American city.)

A small concrete house with horizontally ridged walls, curved on one end. A roof echoes the shape and overhangs on two sides. It’s on a new building site so surrounded by sand with some scrubby bushes in the background.
Community First office printed in September
Regan Morton Photography
Room with white concrete walls, a wood ceiling, and polished concrete floors. It’s furnished with modern office tables and chairs and has shelves with many plants on them.
Interior of 3D-printed house
Regan Morton Photography

The next year, ICON debuted and started shipping its upgraded Vulcan II 3D printer, one of which was promptly commissioned by Cielo to be used exclusively to print affordable housing locally. The completion of the 3D-printed home on Monday was a milestone for the second phase of Community First, which will feature multiple variations on the homes, designed by Logan and printed simultaneously to further increase speed and reduce cost—the latter, simultaneous printing, another first. A set of six will be printed for the community this year.

Cielo worked with Cedar Creek Interiors, Logan Architecture, and Claire Zinnecker Designs on the welcome (and welcoming) center. Industry West donated the furniture. “I wanted the Welcome Center to feel warm, inviting and homey. Utilizing bright colors, interesting shapes, and warm, natural materials, we created a space that makes visitors feel comfortable from the moment they walk in. This is a monumental moment, and I wanted the space to acknowledge and celebrate that.”

A small house with a tall peaked roof. Two visible walls are wood, and one is white, corrugated plastic. The door is red, and there are a red chair and table on the small front porch.
A home at the original Community First Village
Courtesy of Community First

In 2017, Graham announced a 10-year plan to mitigate homelessness in Austin, along with a $60 million capital campaign to fund expansion of its innovative Community First Village, a development that includes tiny houses, recreational vehicles, and “canvas-sided” homes (sturdy tents with concrete foundations), created with a community of volunteers, entrepreneurs, designers, and city leaders to as a permanent housing model for people who experience chronic homelessness.

Phase II adds 24 acres to the northeast Austin development, bringing the entire property to 51 total acres. When completed and at full capacity, Community First will have space for around 480 formerly homeless people. According to a February Austin Monitor story, the total number of people estimated to be without homes in 2019 would likely be around 2,247.

In large part because of its forward-thinking founder, Community First has been at the vanguard of the intersection of technology and social good. As the group expands and enhances its ability to offer real, lasting solutions to homelessness, that kind of collaboration is proving fruitful. “One of our fantasies is that this partnership with ICON and Mobile Loaves and Fishes will grow so deep that we’re able to leverage this technology to build all of our homes. We completely see that as a big, future mission,” said Graham. “Community First is the perfect place on the planet to experiment with that.”

Community First! Village

9301 Hog Eye Road, , TX 78724 (512) 328-7299 Visit Website