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Genesis Collection: World’s Largest 3D-Printed Neighbourhood

Laura Puttkamer
Georgetown

“The Genesis Collection at Wolf Ranch” in Texas will be the world’s largest 3D-printed neighbourhood by BIG, ICON and Lennar.

Aerial view of Genesis Collection. Image: Lennar, ICON and BIG

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In Georgetown, Texas, a project called “The Genesis Collection at Wolf Ranch” will begin in 2023. BIG, ICON and Lennar cooperate to create the world’s largest 3D-printed neighbourhood to date.

Genesis Collection at Wolf Ranch

3D-printed houses are not a novelty anymore. Germany’s first 3D-printed house opened in 2021 and in Mexico, Russia, and China, there are already entire villages that came from a printer. If scaled correctly, the 3D-printing process promises to deliver energy-efficient, climate-resilient homes. Their print process is much faster than conventional construction and results in novel designs and minimal construction waste. ICON is one of the leading 3D-printing company. Together with BIG and Lennar, ICON is pioneering the print-out of neighbourhoods on a larger scale in Texas with the Genesis Collection project.

At first glance, Wolf Ranch appears to be a typical suburban division with 2,500 homes. However, the addition called “Genesis Collection” with 100 houses is an important innovation in residential construction. Genesis Collection will be the world’s largest 3D-printed community once it is finished. It is a collaboration between Lennar Corporation, the US’s second-biggest home builder, and 3D-printing start ICON. Danish architecture firm BIG designed the houses.

Jason Ballard, ICON’s co-founder and CEO, hopes that this will be a pivotal moment in the history of construction. Apart from the environmental benefits of 3D printing, the project will also offer resilience to increasingly intense hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves. In addition, Ballard hopes that 3D printing and robotic construction can end the global housing crisis.

Progress at Wolf Ranch in November 2022. Image: Lennar, ICON and BIG

Genesis Collection: Innovation in a traditional industry

For Lennar Corp., pressures such as labour shortages, rising material costs, and pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of housing mean that the industry needs to innovate. “We have been building homes basically the same way for centuries”, says Lennar Executive Chairman Stuart Miller. He explains that the company is looking at techniques and solutions to build more effectively, more efficiently, and more affordably.

Based on these convictions, Lennar has invested in Austin-based 3D printing startup ICON. Since its foundation in 2017, ICON has already raised 451 million USD. This includes a contract by NASA to explore 3D printing and construction on the lunar surface. Back on Earth, Wolf Ranch is an important project that will provide data on the potential of 3D printing to save time and money at construction sites.

ICON works mostly with the technology of Vulcan printers, that the startup used first in 2018. These machines use a proprietary concrete mixture called Lavacrete, which layers the concrete to form exterior and interior walls. At Wolf Ranch, the latest iteration of the Vulcan printer is in use. It is as almost as big as a house: 14 metres wide and 4.7 metres tall. The printing robot consists of a crossbar moving up and down the two tall towers that sit across a foundation. The crossbar has a nozzle attached, shuttling from side to create the layers.

Render of the 100 homes at Genesis Collection. Image: Lennar, ICON and BIG

Robots at work

Currently, seven robots are at work to build the Genesis Collection, layering Lavacrete in Georgetown, Texas. The “bedroom community” of Wolf Ranch is a rapidly growing settlement 30 miles north of central Austin. In the construction office, big screens show the progress of the printing robots. Each layer of the material dries in about 15 minutes and will eventually fade to a light grey colour. It takes about three weeks to complete the walls of a 3D-printed ICON house – roughly 30 percent less time than for the construction of a traditional house.

Rebar will reinforce the structure , which can then be filled with insulation material. The Vulcan printer also leaves spaces for windows and doors. Workers are on site to carve cut-outs for outlets and light switches. Each printer is attended by four workers, resulting in a quiet construction site where the hum of printers dominates. The construction site is clean, as there is no construction debris. A tablet controls the printers that has the software for different Genesis Collection homes.

Render of the interior of a "Rune" home at Genesis Collection. Image: Lennar, ICON and BIG

Liberation from right angles at the Genesis Collection

Apart from its productive and environmental benefits, Genesis Collection will also show that 3D printing can liberate construction from the constraints of the right angle. Printers such as the Vulcan can print swooping, folding or half-shell-formed walls. Even the kitchen islands at Wolf Ranch can come from the printer.

Genesis Collection consists of differently shaped and designed buildings. Clients can choose one of eight different floor plans. For example, “Rune” is a three-bedroom house with 186 square metres. “Cato” is a curvaceous three-bedroom model with 165 square metres. While ICON focuses on the automatised construction of walls, which are often the most expensive and slowest part of a building, Lennar provides pitched metal roofs. The building company has a crew that will also build foundations and interior finishes at Genesis Collection.

Avantgarde architects BIG, an investor in ICON, have designed the Genesis Collection. The specialists at the Danish firm were particularly interested in 3D printing’s potential of liberating construction from the geometric constraints of the right angle. Lavacrete is pliable and can be bent into undulating shapes, which matches BIG’s curvilinear language.

Pricing for the new homes is not yet official, but will likely be in the 400,000 USD range for Genesis houses, which is competitive with other new homes at Wolf Ranch. OCON, BIG and Lenas will complete the project during 2023.

 

Incidentally, as early as 2021, NASA and ICON collaborated to design an experimental habitat with architects from Bjarke Ingels Group.

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