ICON and Lake|Flato put a 3D-printed spin on the mid-century rambler

Back At The Ranch

ICON and Lake|Flato put a 3D-printed spin on the mid-century rambler

First announced last spring, Austin’s House Zero, a collaboration between ICON and Lake|Flato, is complete. (Casey Dunn)

Robotics and advanced materials construction startup ICON has revealed its first completed home in its Exploration Series, which per the Texas-based company, sets out to “develop new design languages and architectural vernaculars” with collaborating architects “based on the opportunities created by construction-scale 3D printing.”

First announced last May, the roughly 2,000-square-foot East Austin abode melds the familiar appeal of the mid-century ranch house with an “elevated architectural and energy-efficient design that highlights the benefits of resiliency and sustainability, with the digital possibilities of additive construction,” per a news release. Featuring three bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, and a 350-square-foot accessory dwelling unit (ADU), the low-slung, timber-heavy home was designed by San Antonio- and Austin-based Lake|Flato Architects as the first collaborating firm in the series. Additional Exploration Series collaborators beyond Lake|Flato have yet to be revealed.

interior of a home with 3d-printed concrete walls and lots of natural wood
(Casey Dunn)

As previously reported, this inaugural project isn’t located too far from the East 17th Street Residences, an entire Austin enclave of single-family homes designed by previous ICON collaborator Logan Architecture and constructed using advanced 3D-printing technology. When first announced in March of last year, the 3Strands-developed project described itself as the country’s first 3D-printed homes to hit the “mainstream” real estate market with prices starting at $450,000. Also in Austin, ICON has partnered with the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and homebuilder Lennar for a planned project touted as the world’s largest community of 3D-printed homes.

Back at House Zero, ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard described the project and projects like it as being “the new standard of what 3D printing can mean for the world.”

“My hope is that this home will provoke architects, developers, builders, and homeowners to dream alongside ICON about the exciting and hopeful future that robotic construction, and specifically 3D printing, makes possible,” he added in a statement. “The housing of our future must be different from the housing we have known.”

exterior of a ranch-style 3d-printed home with concrete walls and timber roof structure
(Casey Dunn)
interior of a home with timber wall and ceilings and concrete wall system
(Casey Dunn)

With its mid-century throwback aesthetics, House Zero doesn’t appear that radically different from the housing of the past. Clerestory windows, the prevalent use of natural wood, and integration into the surrounding landscape lend the single-story home a sense of comfortable timelessness—it’s a classic rambler redux. Yet the home’s nontraditional construction is also evident throughout, specifically in its curvaceous 3D-printed wall system made possible by ICON’s gantry-style robotic printer dubbed Vulcan and the use of Lavacrete, a proprietary construction material composed of Portland cement, fillers, supplementary cementitious materials, and what the company calls “advanced additives” that help its 3D-printed structures withstand harsh climatic conditions.

As noted by the company, Lavacrete provides thermal mass that slows heat transfer into the home, an important consideration for oft-sweltering Central Texas. The combination of thermal mass, increased insulation, and an airtight wall increases the structure’s energy efficiency while reducing lifecycle costs. True to its moniker, the home was designed as a net-zero energy building.

“While the organic nature of the 3D-printed concrete and curved walls are new design languages for us, House Zero was still entirely in line with the natural connections we seek in our architecture,” said Ashley Heeren, an associate at Lake|Flato. “The home expresses our shared passions for craft and performance in an inviting and comfortable family home constructed through a totally new way of building.”

detail view of a curving concrete wall constructed with a 3d printer
(Casey Dunn)

“The 3D-printed wall design and its inherent biophilic quality conveys an ordered, yet non-rigid pattern invoking a rooted and timeless sense of natural refuge,” added Lewis McNeel, associate partner at Lake|Flato, which has received awards and accolades for its superlatively sustainable completed works, ranging from grocery stores to public libraries to mass timber boutique hotels.

Outside of Austin, ICON has also partnered with BIG (also an A round investor) to create a faux Martian habitat for NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. In October 2020, the same team of BIG and ICON, joined by SEArch+, were also tapped by NASA to help develop Project Olympus, a lunar colony-creating autonomous additive construction system. Back on Earth, ICON has also completed a 3,800-square-foot barracks for the Texas Military Department at the Camp Swift Training Center in Bastrop that ranked as the largest 3D-printed structure in North America upon its completion last August.

section illustration of a home
(Courtesy ICON, Lake|Flato)

House Zero will be open for limited tours later this month during SXSW. More info can be found here. Further ahead, the project will also be presented by Lake|Flato and ICON at at Facades+ Austin on April 27th.