Lennar Executive Chairman Stuart Miller laid the groundwork a month ago for Tuesday’s huge announcement that the Miami-based homebuilder would develop the world’s largest community of 3D-printed homes beginning next year in Austin.
Miller discussed 3D-printing extensively during his keynote remarks Sept. 22 at the ULI Florida Summit. He noted the company’s recent $207 million investment in ICON, the Texas-based company that developed proprietary 3D-printing technology that will be used to construct the 100-home subdivision. The homes will be co-designed by the architecture firm, Bjarke Ingels Group.
Miller noted that Lennar has made substantial investments in tech companies, like ICON, and tech solutions “so we can stay close to the drumbeat of where the world is going.” He told the ULI audience the first 100-home community would likely be in production in 2022.
“And so stay tuned. There are a lot of changes coming — and they are changing the way that homes are built, bought and engaged, and it’ll help us stay at the forefront of where the market is going,” Miller said.
He said ICON’s Vulcan printer uses a product called “Lavacrete” as the basic building material. The product is created with local aggregates that can be sourced in U.S., thus reducing supply chain issues that might come from overseas.
ICON’s 3D printing technology produces resilient, energy-efficient homes faster than conventional construction methods with less waste and more design freedom – keeping construction projects on schedule and on budget. Designed and engineered from the ground up for volume 3D printing of homes with precision and speed, ICON’s Vulcan construction system can deliver homes and structures up to 3,000 square feet that are built to the International Building Code (IBC) structural code standard and expected to last as long or longer than standard Concrete Masonry Unit (CMU) built homes. ICON’s proprietary wall system and advanced materials are stronger and longer-lasting than traditional building materials and provide safer, more resilient homes that are designed to withstand extreme weather, greatly reduce the impact of natural disasters, and be printed at high speeds and at scale.
“ICON exists as a response to the global housing crisis and to put our technology in service to the world,” ICON co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard said in Tuesday’s announcement. “Construction-scale 3D printing not only delivers higher-quality homes faster and more affordably, but fleets of printers can change the way that entire communities are built for the better. The United States faces a deficit of approximately 5 million new homes, so there is a profound need to swiftly increase supply without compromising quality, beauty, or sustainability and that is exactly the strength of our technology. It is an honor and a huge milestone for ICON to partner with Lennar, an elite top-tier homebuilder with a commitment to innovation. We believe this will be a watershed moment in the history of community-scale development and the future breaking into the present.”
The technology is so new, it’s only being used now for single-story homes.
“So let’s first understand that we are at the very, very beginning stages of even a notion of 3D printing … and so today it’s only a single-story home that is actually 3D printed now,” Miller told the ULI audience. “There are two-story homes, but the second story is built in a conventional style. But I always try to remind myself, and I encourage people to remind themselves, that everything that we see today, whatever you can imagine in the future, is possibly going to evolve that way. So it can be in the future, two-story, three-story, 10 story homes that are 3D printed. But the technology is going to have to evolve.”
The most complicated part of 3D printing is not so much the hardware to actually print. “It’s actually the composition of the concrete, or the Lavacrete — that is the ink of the 3D printer — that has to adapt, through the climate cycles through a day, starting with, you know, cooler in the morning and hotter in the afternoon and getting the curation period to be just right. It’s all about chemistry. So, these are complications that will work themselves out over time. And I think the sky’s the limit.”
ICON recently completed and sold four 3D-printed homes in Austin for between $450,000 and $800,000 that were developed by 3Strands and designed by Logan Architecture. Miller noted that affordability will be a goal moving forward. During his ULI speech, he was asked about the cost of 3D printing.
“Okay, first question is cost. And with everything in technology, we always have to remember that a starting point lacks scale,” he said. “It’s a starting point, so the costs, today cannot be estimated, because today’s cost when brought to a scaled program of more and more volume, you start to bring costs down, and they come down quickly. And with scale comes innovation. So the expectation is that over time, the cost structure of a 3D printed home should come down and be quite attractive. I can’t prove that right now — nobody can. We’ll see.
“As it relates to labor: one of the big attractions to a theory 3D printed program is the fact that it does require less labor, and in a labor-constrained market, as we’re in right now, it’s getting to a solution of being able to produce — at a price — but being able to produce with the available labor supply is a critical focus for the industry right now. And it’s one of the attractions of 3D printing.”