Airbnb Backyard 3
Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia in a Backyard prototype

Airbnb to design homes in 2019

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Nicola Byrne

Airbnb likes to disrupt. First, it was the hospitality and travel industries, and now it looks like the company, estimated to be worth $38bn by Forbes, has its sights set on designing and building houses.

A new project called Backyard, which was announced by Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia, is an initiative to prototype new ways that homes can be designed, built and shared, with the team behind it looking to test prototype units as soon as late 2019.

The project comes from Airbnb’s future-oriented innovation lab, Samara, which was set up back in 2016 with a focus on urban planning and rethinking housing.

Backyard investigates how buildings could utilise sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and a vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time.

Gebbia felt inspired to start from a blank slate: “We began with a simple question, what does a home that is designed and built for sharing actually look and feel like? The answer is not simple at all. Other questions quickly emerged. Can a home respond to the needs of many inhabitants over a long period of time? Can it support and reflect the tremendous diversity of human experience? Can it keep up with the rate at which the world changes? Can we accomplish this without filling landfills with needless waste? It’s a tall order.”

Airbnb Backyard 2

Since 2017, Samara has grown a team of industrial designers, interaction designers, architects, roboticists, mechanical and hardware engineers, material specialists and policy experts

The project looked towards the construction industry in search of practical solutions, ranging from eco-friendly building materials to prefabricated homes and found that “nothing addressed long-term adaptability from a systemic perspective,” project lead Fedor Novikov added. “The only way to close the gap was to work from first principles and imagine entirely new approaches for building homes.”

Gebbia added that he believes Airbnb has a unique responsibility and global opportunity to improve the way homes are built and shared, due to a decade of accumulated knowledge about how people live, travel and share: “It’s a social responsibility. The way buildings are made is outdated and generates a tremendous amount of waste. In order to meet the demands of the future, whether it be climate displacement or rural-urban migration, the home needs to evolve, to think forward.”

Airbnb Backyard 1

‘Probably’ a Backyard prototype

“Based on current projections from the UN, 2.5tn sq ft of new buildings will be constructed worldwide by 2060. That’s the equivalent of adding another Paris to the planet every single week.” Gebbia highlighted that in the US alone, construction is starting on an average of 3,300 homes every day.

Should the world’s developers be worried? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

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