Culture Scan

At the intersection of real estate, media, and pop culture.

A 3D Solution for Homelessness?

Have you ever seen a house constructed using a 3D printer? How about an entire community? It was all new to me when I tuned into the new Apple TV+ show called Home. And it made me think about its great potential for addressing an ongoing problem: the shortage of affordable homes in this country.

This episode of Home, the last of the nine shows giving an up-close view of exotic houses in all corners of the world, is the one that stood out most for me. While the series looked at cool houses from Bali to Chicago, the season finale zeroed in on poverty-stricken Nacajuca, Mexico.

In this show, we see the beginning of the construction of the very first community made solely from a 3D printer in nearby Tabasco, Mexico, where the needed land was available. It will soon be home to 50 families selected by New Story, a nonprofit that provides housing solutions to struggling families, to be relocated into this neighborhood at no cost to them.

The 3D printing machine is known as the “Vulcan II,” It looks like a soccer goal post and was designed by the revolutionary homebuilding company ICON. The mobile contraption allows a home to be produced in just 24 hours, cutting the usual costs of labor and materials in half. Cement flows out of pipes at the temperature needed to harden one layer after another to form a sturdy structure.

The homes were designed to have a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms, meeting all of the needs of the families moving into them.

While 3D printers gained the most attention initially for engineering applications and the creation of small, everyday objects, the technology’s potential for other uses is enormous. Seeing how 50 families are benefiting from this life-changing opportunity is inspiring itself, but when you see the technology’s potential as a widespread solution for creating homes for the homeless and other at-risk people, the possibilities are nothing short of amazing.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported that 567,715 people were experiencing homelessness in America in 2019, and 37.2% of them were unsheltered. And the numbers are growing.

With the help of the 3D technology, it may be easier to flatten this curve. Money that goes towards helping the homeless—whether it’s from government sources, nonprofit organizations, or private donations—could have double the impact considering that 3D printed construction would cost about half as much.

The efficient development method could also enable the efficient rebuilding of neighborhoods ruined in natural disasters. As the printer technology advances, families might even get to design their new house to fit their needs and preferences. Residents affected could then quickly get back on their feet instead of having to relocate.

With no assembly necessary, the Vulcan II can be transported in a trailer from state to state, city to city, helping displaced citizens one cement wall at a time.

Co-founder and CEO of ICON Jason Ballard is hopeful for the change this 11.5-foot tall robotic system could make around the world. “This technology lets us imagine, perhaps for the first time in the history of humanity, that we can end homelessness,” he says.

To watch the full series of Home which is streaming globally, sign up for a subscription on Apple TV+.


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