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ICON’s Vitruvius AI program designs dream homes

Artificial intelligence is moving into the housing space, specifically architecture.

ICON, which developed one of the first fully 3D-printed housing developments in the U.S., is taking automation another step further. It recently unveiled what it calls Vitruvius, an AI program that helps consumers design custom homes online and get the plans, making the process cheaper and faster.

“The big vision of Vitruvius is to go all the way from human desire all the way through deliveries, like construction documents, budgets, schedules, even robotic instructions,” said Jason Ballard, CEO of ICON.

Vitruvius can recall every design and possibility it’s ever seen, according to Ballard. It has been trained on building codes, building methods and structural engineering, so it understands what’s possible.

“It far exceeds human capability,” Ballard added.

The user starts by typing in a general idea of the type of house they’d like to build. Then Vitruvius asks questions, everything from where the home will be located, how large it will be, what type of architecture it will feature, which amenities it should include, and in what style. It then learns from the answers, incorporating knowledge from past designs, and offers designs for three potential homes.

The program also can show what the home would look like if it were 3D printed or in the style of a famous architect, living or dead. Though other AI models have gotten into hot water for potential copyright infringement, Ballard said he isn’t concerned in this case.

“It’s not actually stealing anyone’s actual work. It’s just sort of taking inspiration in the way that human artists take inspiration,” he said. “I have no doubt that tools like this are going to change the way that we do things.”

Vitruvius debuted at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, where both real estate agents and architects tried it out.

“I think [AI is] going to be more of a tool. There are jobs that are going to change. Obviously architecture is never going to be the same anymore,” said Leonardo Guzman, an architect and builder, of the technology.

Real estate agent Gina McAndrews also tried it and said she was impressed by the technology, but expected it would be used more in conjunction with architects, rather than replace them.

“It definitely will save a whole lot of money, but at the same time you still need people to interact with to change things, but, yes, definitely to just spark ideas because I’m limited in what I’ve seen, and this is like mind-blowing,” McAndrews said.

Ballard said the implications of AI in architecture extend beyond just consumers looking to save on architecture fees. He sees it as a game changer for affordable housing, which often cuts corners to reduce costs.

“What happens in affordable housing projects is we dispense with architecture altogether. Even affordable housing projects deserve beauty and dignity, and we think this tool makes this possible, because, over time, the cost of using this tool should approach the cost of the energy to power the system,” Ballard said.