There’s about to be a new homebuilder on the market, and it’s a name that you’re likely familiar with – Airbnb.
Yes, the short-term rental platform, which to this point has specialized in helping people rent out their houses or apartments, is going to start building homes of its own.
Airbnb announced this week that it will soon begin building homes that are designed to be shared.
The project is being led by Airbnb Co-Founder Joe Gebbia, who is leading an “experimental product development team” within Airbnb called Samara.
The homebuilding initiative is called Samara: Backyard, which the company says will focus on prototyping new ways that homes can be “designed, built, and shared.”
According to Airbnb, the homebuilding project will begin testing prototypes as soon as fall 2019.
Airbnb says that the initiative is borne out of the company looking at what would make the ideal home for sharing, which the company said doesn’t actually currently exist.
So the company is aiming to develop the perfect sharing home.
“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,” Gebbia said in a release.
“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?,” he continued. “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.”
The company said that the initiative will focus on environmentally conscious design and construction, in addition to designing homes that ideal for sharing.
According to Airbnb, the Backyard team surveyed the construction industry to find “practical solutions, ranging from eco-friendly building materials to fully prefabricated homes,” but was unable to find what they felt was the ideal solution.
“Simply put, nothing addressed long-term adaptability from a systemic perspective,” Backyard project lead Fedor Novikov said. “The only way to close the gap was to work from first principles and imagine entirely new approaches for building homes.”
So the Backyard project will be investigating how buildings can be designed to “utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time.”
According to Airbnb, the project has been in the works since last year. During that time, the Samara team has grown to include industrial designers, interaction designers, architects, roboticists, mechanical and hardware engineers, material specialists, and policy experts.
“Airbnb challenged conventional thinking and pioneered an entirely new industry,” Gebbia said. “We helped people activate underutilized space — from a spare bedroom or treehouse to your apartment while you’re away — and built a community that connected people around the world. With Backyard, we’re using the same lens through which Airbnb was envisioned — the potential of space — and applying it more broadly to architecture and construction.”
As stated above, the Backyard team anticipates testing prototypes in the fall of next year. It’s unclear at this time if Airbnb plans to build homes at scale or if it will simply take the ideas that come out of this project and sell (or share) them with builders or property owners.
If Airbnb does end up becoming an ongoing homebuilder, it would blunt some of the questions about Airbnb’s impact on local housing markets. Many argue the prospect of being able to rent homes out as short-term rentals keeps homeowners from putting their home on the market.
Others suggest that landlords horde homes and apartments to use them as de facto hotel chains on Airbnb and the like, thereby denying long-term housing opportunities to people who need them.
Gebbia, however, said that Backyard is an altruistic venture.
“For us, this goes beyond a business opportunity. It’s a social responsibility,” Gebbia said. “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.”