Additively Manufactured Concrete Houses are More Than Hype

One of the first applications for concrete additive manufacturing was for very low cost residential houses in developing nations. Behrokh Khoshnevis’ at Countour Crafting Corp and the World Advanced Savings Project (WASP) have pioneered the development of technologies for these markets. In recent years, tens of public and private organizations across the globe have begun developing technologies for wealthier markets and U.S. Army applications. Although RCAM Technologies is not active in housing applications, we follow developments in concrete printing housing closely in order to leverage and adapt the technologies for industrial applications.

I recently had the opportunity to visit NewStory’s and Icon’s  small concrete house, printed in 24 hours for about $10,000. Admittedly, I was previously skeptical that concrete additive manufactured houses would be the first successful market application of large-scale concrete printing. My concerns about the business model, aesthetics, insulation, and building permits led me to suspect that the market for concrete printed buildings could be more hype than substance, eventually resulting in commercialization delays and disillusionment with the technology. My visit to Icon’s house in the lively and creative city of Austin, Texas helped change my mind.

Icon’s success building the house is remarkable in several ways. The speed and relatively small budget in which the partnership created its business, developed the technology, and built a demonstration is astounding. Icon is a lean, efficient, and fast moving startup. They have adapted proven and readily available computer controlled equipment and concrete materials. I believe their highly automated printer combined with these low-cost construction materials will enable them to reach their significantly reduced building costs of only $4000.

I find the architectural aesthetic of the Icon house pleasing; it’s a well-designed, attractive small home well suited for developing countries, or perhaps a tiny house domestically. I’d be happy to spend time in such a house like their concept home. The rippled concrete walls may be unattractive to some, but should not be an issue for the target markets in developing countries. For wealthier markets, the walls can be smoothed using an automated smoothing technique or covered with finishes such as stucco or tile, like those designed by Emerging Objects. The flexibility of the manufacturing process will allow methods of incorporating insulation into concrete printed houses, such as the BATIPRINT3D print process used to build the French house. Finally, Icon’s success in securing the necessary Austin building permits helps address my concern that building permits could hold back the industry domestically.

Icon’s and the nonprofit Newstory are raising funds and taking donations to start printing houses in El Salvador this year. Given what I saw in Austin, I believe the project will be another success in a long line of future successes for concrete additive manufacturing.