"Backyard is an initiative to prototype new ways that homes can be built and shared, guided by an ambition to realize more humanistic, future-oriented, and waste-conscious design." - Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia
After years of surging growth in the short-term rental space, Airbnb is looking ahead to diversify its offerings with the addition of home design and building services.
Valued at roughly $38 billion, the Silicon Valley tech giant announced Thursday its new home building initiative titled “Backyard.” The company said it’s “an endeavor to design and prototype new ways of building and sharing homes” and that its first test units will be distributed in 2019.
In a company article on the project, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia said that the inspiration of Backyard was derived from a simple question: What does a home that is designed and built for sharing actually look and feel like? The answers spurred new questions that eventually led to the launch of Backyard, he said.
“Backyard is an initiative to prototype new ways that homes can be built and shared, guided by an ambition to realize more humanistic, future-oriented, and waste-conscious design,” Gebbia said. “It investigates how buildings could 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.”
The Backyard project is a multifaceted, holistic revamp of how to approach homebuilding and urban planning, Gebbia said. It will include small prefabricated dwellings, green building materials, standalone houses, and multi-unit complexes, according to an interview with Gebbia published in Fast Company.
Backyard was in part inspired by a United Nations report indicating that, based on current projections, 2.5 trillion square feet of new buildings will be built worldwide by 2060. In the U.S. alone, builders are starting construction on an average of 3,300 new homes each day, Gebbia said.
Backyard is more than a new revenue source — it’s a fulfillment of a responsibility to the environment and future of humanity, he added.
“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 “The way buildings are made is outdated and generates a tremendous amount of waste.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.”
It’s “too early to say” what the cost of a “Backyard” home would be, Gibba said. He added, however, that he hopes Backyard will become as big as Airbnb is today.
“Airbnb didn’t have five- or 10-year metrics at day zero, we just focused on building something we thought could help solve a problem, while bringing people closer together,” Gebbia told Fast Company. “We’re optimizing for Backyard’s potential. We’re interested in thoughtfully exploring the opportunity and doing something transformative, similar to how Airbnb did when it started.”