In the low-slung hills of El Salvador, building a house is not an easy task. The land is vulnerable to earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruptions. The roads are rugged, electricity sparse.
For the past several years, New Story – a housing charity based in San Francisco – has built more than 150 homes there, replacing tarps and scrap metal shelters with houses that have proper roofs and floors. It’s been slow, painstaking work in a country where nearly a third of the population is without shelter.
A little over two years ago, the company wondered if there was a better way to build. In the three years since it launched, New Story had gathered the funding to construct 1,300 homes and had completed 850 of them – but that felt like a drop in a bucket. “There are over 100 million people living in slum conditions in what we call survival mode,” says Alexandria Lafci, New Story’s cofounder and COO. “How can we make a big dent in this instead of just solving incrementally?”
The idea they landed on: 3-D printing.
Since then, New Story has been tinkering away with construction technology company ICON to design a 3-D printer for building homes in regions of the world that lack the economic resources to house their poorest citizens. Now, you can see the fruits of their labor: a 350-square-foot structure in Austin, Texas, and the first 3-D-printed house in the country built to local housing code.
The Texas house is just a prototype of the fast, cheap, and sustainable home design the company hopes to bring to El Salvador, Bolivia, Haiti, and Mexico. Using current traditional methods, it takes New Story eight months to build a community of 100 homes, which cost about $6,000 each. With a 3-D printer, it says it can build one home a day at a cost of $4,000 per structure. If New Story succeeds, the first people to live in a 3-D-printed town won’t be the technologists or the futurists of Silicon Valley. They’ll be people in the world’s poorest regions, who most need a roof over their heads.