Austin construction firm to 3D print Army barracks
A cutting-edge construction firm is partnering with the U.S. military to build 3D-printed barracks.
Driving the news: Austin-based ICON tells Axios the fast-growing company is building military housing at Fort Bliss in West Texas, its latest project with the military.
Details: At more than 5,700 square feet each, the barracks will be the largest 3D-printed structures in the Western Hemisphere, per the company.
- How it works: ICON uses its Vulcan machine — basically, a 46-foot-wide robot with a tube coming out of it — to pour layer upon layer of Lavacrete — its proprietary concrete mix — over a building foundation.
- Imagine you were using Reddi-wip to construct a wall of whipped cream around your banana split, and you sort of have the idea.
Why it matters: The project is another way ICON is showing how 3D printing can be used to quickly erect more energy-efficient and resilient buildings at greater speed and lower cost than traditional methods.
- ICON has been pushing the envelope on 3D construction in recent years, printing a Mars-suitable prototype habitat for NASA, dozens of small abodes in Mexico for people living in deep poverty, and homes in Austin for people experiencing homelessness.
- The company is also building a subdivision near Austin with at least 100 homes and one East Austin house built by the firm has sold for nearly $800,000.
- Last month it unveiled its showpiece House Zero, a very cool East Austin home — curvy, roomy, beautifully proportioned — designed by Austin's Lake Flato architectural firm, that's meant to model luxury living.
Distinguishing these buildings is what the company calls biophiliac lines — organic-seeming structures characterized by curved lines.
The big picture: Facing a backlog in housing projects, the Defense Department is looking for ways to replace its oldest barracks, some dating to the 1940s and compromised by rot or mildew.
"The buildings that we're constructing are much more energy efficient, more beautiful and more climate resilient," Brendan O'Donoghue, vice president of public sector projects at ICON, tells Axios.
- "Our mission is that no matter who you are, you deserve to have a dignified place to rest your head," O'Donoghue adds.
- The project, which includes the military's Defense Innovation Unit as a partner, is due for completion by the year's end.
Flashback: In 2020, ICON partnered with the U.S. Marine Corps to roll out 3D printing for expeditionary use to cut the time, cost and risk of construction in support of overseas contingency operations.
- The military called it a "vehicle hide structure"— also known as a garage.
- And last year the Texas Military Department partnered with ICON to design and build a 72-person barracks at the Camp Swift Training Center in Bastrop.
What they're saying: "This project supports all three Army priorities: people, readiness and modernization," says Lt. Gen. Doug Gabram, commanding general of United States Army Installation Management Command. "Constructing facilities using this cutting-edge technology saves labor costs, reduces planning time and increases the speed of construction of future facilities."
By the numbers: ICON officials declined to say how much the new barracks would cost, except that the project would be "10-30% cheaper than traditional construction."
- Of note: ICON has won at least $15 million in Defense Department contracts since 2019.
What's next: Gabram says the military is examining whether to use ICON's technology for "other types of facilities beyond barracks."
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