Baylor alumni helps create first permitted 3D printed home in Austin

ICON, a construction technologies startup, debuted America’s first 3D-printed house at South by Southwest in Austin earlier this month. The company hopes to make housing more universally accessible. Photo Courtesy of ICON

By Micaela Freeman | Staff Writer

Baylor alumni Alex Le Roux and Jason Ballard, co-founder of the home upgrade company TreeHouse, unveiled their first 3D printed home in Austin earlier this month under their company ICON.

Le Roux and Ballard co-founded ICON, a construction technologies startup, and began their first project for New Story, a San Francisco-based nonprofit which seeks to provide housing for impoverished communities — to build a 3D printed house.

The Austin unveiling was the first-ever 3D printed home in America built with a permit. Designed to decrease housing shortages in places such as Haiti and El Salvador, the unveiling of the first 3D house demonstrates potential change in the future of housing.

The 3D printer, called Vulcan, was designed to fix housing shortages for populations in need without a profit motivation. It is also built to withstand harsh environments in case of power shortages.

The house debuted in Austin was built using a prototype of this printer.

“The production version of the printer will have the ability to print a single story, 600-800 square foot home in under 24 hours for less than $4,000,” ICON’s website says.

Ballard, who works alongside Le Roux at ICON in Austin, said in a New Story press release that 3D printing offers an entirely new way to design houses.

“With 3D printing, you not only have a continuous thermal envelope, high thermal mass and near zero-waste, but you also have speed, a much broader design palette, next-level resiliency and the possibility of a quantum leap in affordability,” Ballard said in the press release. “This isn’t 10 percent better, it’s 10 times better.”

The project allowed engineers, environmentalists and businesses to come together with New Story’s global initiative. Le Roux, who graduated from Baylor two years ago with a degree in mechanical engineering, said the house has launched his career in the direction he wants it to go.

Le Roux said his interest in 3D printing began early in his academic career, and that by his senior year at Baylor, he had assembled a prototype of a 3D printer.

“Since I was at Baylor, I enjoyed building custom 3D printers,” Le Roux said. “Often at Baylor, I would disassemble the machines, tinker with them and try to improve upon them. This lead to the building of a large-scale 10-foot by 10-foot by 10-foot printer just before graduation.”

Le Roux said once he graduated from Baylor, his goals grew into something he hopes will not only affect his career, but also others around him. Le Roux said the recent success he has had gives him hope for his and ICON’s future.

“ICON is my career in many ways. I graduated from Baylor two years ago. ICON’s success these past two weeks helps me feel good about the future,” Le Roux said. “It’s a great feeling working towards a singular goal for years and then finally having it become a reality.”

For Le Roux, Ballard and New Story, the 3D-printed home serves as proof that sustainable home building can offer affordable and safe homes for families at a rapid pace.

Along with ICON, Brett Hagler, CEO of New Story, said in New Story’s press release that 3D printing homes is an opportunity to better innovation and end homelessness around the world.

“We feel it’s our responsibility to challenge traditional methods and work toward ending homelessness. Linear methods will never reach the million plus people who need safe homes,” Hagler said. “By working with ICON and leveraging their 3D-printing innovations, we’re able to reach more families with the best possible shelter solutions, exponentially faster.”

Despite the recent success and fame Le Roux and ICON have received, Le Roux said Baylor equipped him to be this successful.

“Baylor taught me everything I needed to know and then some,” Le Roux said. “The education is as good as it gets and served me very well.”