One of the less obvious products being unveiled this week at SXSW is a small concrete house. On the outside, it doesn’t look like anything particularly special, although the covered patio and spacious windows are less common on tiny poured-concrete buildings.
That’s because the innovation isn’t in the structure or materials — it’s in the design and building. ICON, the company that builds the 650-square-foot house, claims it costs just $10,000 to build, and can be 3-D printed by a Vulcan printer in 12 to 24 hours using the most common building material on Earth.
ICON is has built a model at SXSW, which features a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and curved porch. The company’s co-founders told The Verge that it will be using the model as an office for the immediate future to see how it performs. “We are going to install air quality monitors. How does it look, and how does it smell?” founder Jason Ballard told The Verge.
In the longer term, ICON has partnered with housing nonprofit New Story to take its technology to the developing world. The plan is for ICON and New Story to build a community of 100 homes in El Salvador next year using the Vulcan printer. Although 3-D printing has been used in building fabrication before, printing on-site using a universally available building material is a new step.
That said, ICON’s structures still presumably rely on a goodly supply of available labor and talent, and a structure won’t be taken from bare earth to habitability with no human interaction. Excavation still has to happen for concrete foundations, and the windows, roof, and interior mechanicals like electricity and plumbing can’t be poured by a printer.