The world’s first fully permitted 3D-printed home for low-income and underserviced communities was revealed in Austin, Texas, at the annual SXSW conference this year.

The result of a partnership between Icon, a pioneering building technology provider, and New Story, a low-cost housing non-profit organisation, is a stylish tiny house measuring 60 square metres. It was printed on-site with Icon’s ‘quite large’ Vulcan portable 3D printer in 24 hours.

The Vulcan printed the house out of layer upon layer of concrete, resulting in ridged walls that look and feel pleasingly different from ordinary flat-layer cement or cinderblock finishes.

Icon and New Story have announced that their innovation will be going global soon, as they intend breaking ground on “the world’s first 3D printed community” in Latin America later this year. It will provide housing to 400 people currently not living in formal housing.

Delivering affordable, resilient, sustainable houses faster

The prototype house cost just $10,000 to build – a number Icon has said it could drive down as low as $4,000.

The company calls it a proof of concept for sustainable homebuilding that will allow for safer, more affordable homes for more families, faster than ever.

It is difficult to disagree, as Icon has succeeded in producing cheap, durable structures at high speed, using technology that can withstand the service support and resource challenges of places like Haiti and rural El Salvador.

The Vulcan may well be the solution we’ve needed all along to combat housing shortages for vulnerable populations. Traditional profit-driven methods are undeniably failing.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to challenge traditional methods in working toward ending homelessness. Linear methods will never reach the billion-plus people who need safe homes,” said Brett Hagler, CEO of New Story. “By working with Icon and leveraging their 3D printing innovations, we’re able to reach more families with the best possible shelter solutions, exponentially faster.”

“Conventional construction methods have many baked-in drawbacks and problems that we’ve taken for granted for so long, that we forgot how to imagine any alternative,” says Jason Ballard, co-founder of Icon.  “With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope [insulation without gaps], high thermal mass [low heat absorption], and near zero-waste, but also speed, a much broader design palette, resiliency, and a quantum leap in affordability. This isn’t 10% better, it’s 10 times better.”