Cementing the future
The concept of 3-D-printed houses is turning into something solid in Medford.
An innovative neighborhood development utilizing new 3-D printing construction technology has been proposed for Medford by the Ashland-based Thalden Foundation.
NewSpirit Village is planned for a 6.1-acre site on Meadows Lane, just south and east of the West Main Street and Lozier Lane intersection. It would be one of the first developments of its kind in the United States.
The project would include approximately 84 one-, two- and three-bedroom single-family homes, designed to be energy-efficient, fire-resistant and able to withstand extreme weather and earthquakes.
Instead of conventional materials such as steel, aluminum and lumber, 3-D-printed walls are built by a robot squeezing a proprietary cement mixture out of a nozzle, layer upon layer, like a soft swirl ice cream cone.
Three-dimensional printers have been used to make thousands of items, ranging from aircraft engine parts, guns and tools to jewelry, prosthetics and bikinis. The technology utilizes layers of durable plastics and metals in liquid, powder and sheet form.
Until recently, housing wasn’t a big part of the 3-D printing revolution. But now, templates can be designed with 3-D computer-aided design software. Full-scale buildings can be produced with concrete, foam and polymers, using a large robot extruder.
A construction firm listed a 3-D-printed house in Riverhead, New York, this year for $299,000. It was billed as the first 3-D-printed home for sale in the United States, but it was predated by similar projects in France, Germany and the Netherlands.
The Thalden Foundation is a philanthropic, not-for-profit corporation, established and directed by Kathryn and Barry Thalden, who retired and moved to Ashland in 2012.
The foundation, established to support the arts and to provide new opportunities for those in need, is focused on Ashland and the Rogue Valley.
NewSpirit Village is a sister nonprofit foundation they established specifically to build the new Medford development.
“After the Almeda and Obenchain fires devastated so many people, we were inspired to help local organizations in finding new homes for fire victims,” Kathryn Thalden said.
“After looking around, we decided that what was really needed was a new housing development. We were presented with the opportunity to build 3-D-printed houses, which was exactly the avenue that could provide quality, low-cost homes in a shorter time,” she said.
The Thaldens are providing initial charitable contributions that would fund portions of the project, such as design costs, down-payment reductions, and a community center with a laundry, community kitchen, community gardens and a playground.
“We believe that what we accomplish here may inspire others elsewhere to take action to help their communities thrive,” Barry Thalden said.
Thalden founded, and led for 43 years, what became a nationally known architecture firm with offices in St. Louis, Tulsa, Phoenix and Las Vegas. His experience includes designing tens of thousands of residential units from coast to coast.
Kathryn Thalden founded and operated a city planning and landscape architecture firm in Kansas City and later was the founding minister of the Unity Church in Green Valley in Henderson, Nevada.
A chance conversation with Rich Emery, architect and president of the architecture firm Thalden founded (now TBE Architects), resulted in the decision to use 3-D printing for the Medford project.
“Rich mentioned that he was intending to build 3-D concrete-printed homes in Costa Rica for worker housing,” Thalden said. “I immediately asked, ‘How about Oregon?’”
Real estate broker Patie Millen helped them look at potential sites throughout the Rogue Valley.
“We thought the vacant 6-acre Medford site was the best because it is within a city boundary, already zoned for high-density housing, adjacent to a city park, and within walking distance to shopping,” Thalden said.
“As soon as we had the property under contract in August, we started talking with the Medford City Planning Department. We knew that this would be a unique project and wanted to have them on board as early as possible.”
NewSpirit Village will serve as developer of the project and has selected Robb Meyers of Outlier Construction as the general contractor.
If the project gets the final go-ahead from the city, TBE Architects will serve as project architects. Titan Robot Buildings, a company owned by Emery and Luke Jumper (also of TBE), would print the houses, working in collaboration with Titan Robotics, manufacturer of the printer.
"We expect to start construction early next summer," Thalden said.
The 3-D printing technology not only reduces time and cost, but reduces the use of materials and skilled labor, both of which are in short supply.
Printed concrete walls require no formwork, studs, sheathing, siding or drywall. Using the process makes it possible to build with near-zero waste.
Basically, 3-D printing is creating a wall system. The house still has to have a foundation and a roof. It’s not a process that creates every component of a house, but it’s a way to lower costs.
“All the walls of a house will go up in three days,” Thalden said. “Electrical wiring and plumbing are inserted in the double-wall cavity prior to adding insulation. Spray painting the exterior and interior corduroy-like walls is the final finish.”
The roofs will be made of metal framing with panels of metal shingles.
“Unlike the homes and mobile homes that continue to be built of highly flammable and toxic materials, these homes will be fire resistant, energy efficient and environment-sensitive,” he said.
The private streets within the development, instead of being typical city streets, will resemble brick-paved lanes and cul-de-sacs.
“They will feel safe for bicycles and even for playing in the streets, an historic American tradition,” Thalden said.
Families burned out by the wildfires are the primary focus for home ownership in the new project, although others will be eligible as well.
The final cost of the homes is still in flux, but it is NewSpirit Village’s hope that it can deliver homes with no money down and payments under $1,200 a month for a two-bedroom house, including real estate taxes and fees.
“In order to maintain affordability into the future, we are utilizing a provision in Oregon laws to hold all the land in a trust so that some of the initial low-cost benefits are passed through to future buyers,” Thalden said. “We are working with Proud Ground, based in Portland, to manage that.”
The Thaldens have involved potential buyers in the planning process, listening to their needs and concerns. United Way and Rogue Retreat helped them organize an in-person meeting with about two dozen potential residents.
“While it was painful to listen to some of their stories, they all offered valuable input, which has definitely influenced the design of the development and of the houses,” Kathryn Thalden said.
The plan calls for driveways, but meeting attendees said they also would like to have carports. Front porches are part of the design, but backyard patios are also important to them. They expressed an interest in lofts for extra space and would like enclosed outdoor storage space for bicycles and garden equipment.
NewSpirit Village is an estimated $18 million project. Achieving the goal of affordability will require contributions from more than just the Thalden Foundation, which is donating $1 million.
“We hope to receive funding grants totaling $3.5 million,” Barry Thalden said. “We currently have commitments, including our own, for $1,125,000.”
United Way was the first to commit a grant to the project. There have been discussions with state, local and philanthropic agencies that have expressed their interest in contributing funding.
“We have had weekly Zoom meetings with a group of 40 individuals representing those organizations,” Thalden said. “Rep. Pam Marsh, Sen. Jeff Golden, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, United Way Director Dee Anne Everson and Medford Planning Director Matt Brinkley have been extraordinarily helpful.”
Medford Planning Director Matt Brinkley said the project is in the pre-application phase, and that the city is working closely with the Thaldens toward the formal submittal.
“We really want to see this happen,” he said. “Helping create housing for families displaced by the Almeda fire is a great goal and something we want to support.”
He said the city expects the formal submittal in the near future. Because NewSpirit Village is a different kind of project, details must be worked out to modify the existing site plan.
“There are no insurmountable obstacles,” Brinkley said. “There are always issues and challenges with any new development. The city is really appreciative of the project. It’s something we would have needed even without the Almeda fire.”
Brinkley noted that the small lots for the development were offset by being located near Lewis Park.
“It would allow residents a significant amount of open space nearby,” he said. “This is a very much needed project and very exciting.”
The Thaldens see the project as more than just building houses.
“We want to provide the opportunity to change lives for the better,” they said. “We believe NewSpirit Village will allow people who have been trapped in intergenerational poverty to own their own homes for the first time, and be a part of the American dream.”
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at email@example.com.