With ‘Backyard,’ Airbnb could change how houses are designed and built

Boy, if you thought Airbnb was effective at disrupting the hotel industry, just wait until they design and build your next house.

Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia announced through a press release and a wide-ranging interview with Fast Company that his company’s next trick will be a venture called “Backyard,” whose purpose is designing and building houses — more than likely in strange new ways that we’ve never really seen before.

“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,” Gebbia said.

airbnb backyard homes

The initiative falls under the umbrella of Samara, Airbnb’s futuristic research and development division. The company describes the project as “an endeavor to design and prototype new ways of building and sharing homes.”

If Backyard’s houses are designed to be shared from the ground up, they must be built to be flexible to the needs of different occupants, meaning spaces that are adaptable and can be reconfigured to each person’s changing needs. The models already appear to feature modular floor plans, which would definitely lend themselves to modern prefabricated housing technology, and even interchangeable roofs. Smart, adaptable, and affordable would be a neat hat trick.

That is when you have to ask yourself what homes around the world are shared more than any other structure, up to and including hotels? Those would be homes that are meant to be listed on Airbnb.

In terms of vertical integration as well as diversification of its business, it’s kind of genius. Airbnb almost instantly becomes both a producer and a marketplace for selling homes and putting them on their own digital platform. Still, others think Backyard might be a means to take advantage of California’s new Accessory Dwelling regulations, which permit tiny homes in places like backyards.

airbnb backyard homes joe gebbia
Joe Gebbia in a Backyard prototype dwelling.

Samara has already started assembling a team of architects, designers, and engineers to start designing and assembling prototype units. Gebbia told Fast Company that he envisioned the first wave of test units going public in 2019 but that it was too early to estimate a ballpark cost for each unit.

“Backyard investigates how buildings could utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies and gains vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time,” Gebbia told Fast Company. “Backyard isn’t a house, it’s an initiative to rethink the home. Homes are complex, and we’re taking a broad approach — not just designing one thing, but a system that can do many things.”

When we interviewed author and journalist Leigh Gallagher about her book on Airbnb last year, she said that Gebbia is always looking for a nebulous idea he calls, “The thing after,” meaning an idea so radically different that it’s not even in the same category as Airbnb itself.

“The thing after” may be coming soon.

Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Mobile

Unleash your inner artist with the best drawing apps for the iPad Pro

The best drawing apps for the iPad Pro turn Apple's robust tablet into a canvas worthy of a true artist. Here are 20 of our current favorites, whether you're looking to keep things simple or take your art to the next level.
Home Theater

Say goodbye to the box: The future of home theater has no use for receivers

One of the most intriguing new trends to come out of CES 2019 this year comes from a technology that has been around for years. WiSA, now in new LG TVs, has the potential to cut the wires and change the home theater landscape forever.
Cars

See the hotly anticipated 2020 Toyota Supra in motion before its unveiling

Toyota's plan to once again lure enthusiasts into showrooms involves bringing back the Supra, one of its most emblematic nameplates. Here's what we know so far about the upcoming coupe, which Toyota is developing jointly with BMW.
Deals

Amazon drops prices on Roomba robot vacuums by up to $150

Amazon is offering discounts on iRobot Roombas and other robot vacuums to help you get a leg-up on those chores. We've rounded up the best deals available now and put them all in one place.
Smart Home

Speed up cooking with one of the best pressure cookers on the market

Not all pressure cookers are created equally. You have to choose between stovetop cookers, multicookers, canners, and even microwave cookers. Our pressure cooking buyer's guide includes our picks for the best in each category.
Product Review

Ring Video Doorbell 2 is the simplest entry into a smarter doorway

The Ring Video Doorbell 2 may lack the style and sophistication of premium door-dingers, but few can match its simplicity and versatility. The device, available in both wired and wireless configurations, is easy to set up and adds instant…
Smart Home

Brew it fast, hot, and flavorful with our favorite coffee makers

Whether you're looking for a simple coffee maker to get you through the morning or a high-end brewer that will impress your taste buds and your friends, you'll find some of the best coffee makers around on this list.
Smart Home

This just in: Alexa can now deliver the news like a professional newscaster

The Amazon Alexa team has given Alexa a newscaster voice that improves the way she delivers the news and reads Wikipedia articles, making the smart assistant easier to understand.
Smart Home

Ring security camera catches man licking the doorbell for hours

A family in Salinas, California had their Ring camera capture something pretty unexpected: a man licking the doorbell outside of their home for more than three hours. The incident took place around 5:00 a.m.
Smart Home

GHSP makes a (back)splash with its touchscreen concept kitchen

One of the coolest concept kitchens from CES 2019 came from GHSP. It created a backsplash entirely made of touchscreens. That means the control panel for your kitchen is accessible no matter where you are.
Product Review

Kwikset Kevo Contemporary review

Tired of carrying around keys? Make keyless entry so easy that all you have to do is have your phone nearby to open the door. It’s a little pricey, but sleek lines and simple features make the Kwikset Kevo Contemporary a great choice for…
Smart Home

Airbnb says sorry to guest for how it dealt with undisclosed security camera

An Airbnb guest recently found a surveillance camera in his rental apartment that hadn't been properly disclosed in the listing. The firm admits its initial response to the guest's complaint was poor, but has since made amends.
Health & Fitness

In search of the fountain of youth, beauty companies turn to tech

Beauty tech is a fairly new concept, but at CES 2019, companies such as Olay, L’Oreal, and Neutrogena were fully embracing it with all kinds of gadgets that promise to give you glowing skin.