Apr 5, 2022 - News

Austin construction firm to 3D print Army barracks

A rendering of military barrcks.

A rendering of ICON's 3D-printed barracks designed by Logan Architecture. Courtesy ICON

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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