The Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is further deepening its ties to the Austin-based robotics and advanced materials startup ICON. Today ICON and homebuilding company Lennar announced that they had partnered and will 3D print a 100-home neighborhood in Austin with BIG as the designer.
Expected to break ground next year, all 100 residences will be printed with ICON’s Vulcan printer, which can print concrete structures of up to 3,000 square feet. The company has been on a tear across Texas just this year alone; in August, ICON completed the largest 3D-printed building in North America for the Texas Military Department in the form of a 72-person barracks, developed an Austin home with Lake|Flato, and revealed a faux-Martian habitat for NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston (another BIG collaboration).
However, promising 100 full-scale single-family homes is a massive leap forward for ICON as the completed project would be the world’s largest 3D-printed community, period. In Nacajuca, Mexico, the company is already printing 50 houses using its proprietary LavaCreate concrete blend, but the new Austin project contains twice as many buildings and at much greater scales. Whereas the Mexico project was commissioned through a partnership with San Francisco nonprofit New Story to provide social housing, in Austin the goal is affordability and sustainability—but the homes will still need to entice buyers.
“Additive manufacturing has the potential to revolutionize the built environment as it gets adopted by the industry at scale,” said Martin Voelkle, a partner at BIG, in the announcement. “By partnering with ICON and Lennar, we are able to see this new technology roll out to the widest possible audience. The 3D-printed architecture and the photovoltaic roofs are innovations that are significant steps towards reducing waste in the construction process, as well as towards making our homes more resilient, sustainable, and energy self-sufficient.”
From the renderings, it appears that while there will be similarities between each building to create a cohesive aesthetic (rounded corners, long and narrow massings, and tall, steeply-pitched gabled roofs with integrated solar panels), the new neighborhood will contain a variety of different sized and arranged homes. The overall feel, as ICON and Lennar are pitching, certainly is “suburban,” down to the segmented yards. All of the homes will be printed to International Building Code structural standards, and the team is promising similar or greater longevity than those built with standard concrete masonry units.
Both Lennar, through its LENX technology and innovation investment department, and BIG are ICON investors. The former more recently invested in ICON’s Series B round this past August, and the latter joined in August of 2020 after jumping on into the original Series A round. More broadly, the Austin project also aligns quite nicely with BIG’s broadening ambitions as of late; after joining WeWork in 2018 to help design everything from schools to neighborhoods, BIG has more recently announced its involvement with Nabr, a Silicon Valley “design living” project with an ambitious goal to reimagine the future of sustainable, tech-connected housing.
No estimated completion date or specific area in Austin has been given for the new neighborhood yet.