In true pioneer tech fashion, 20 modernist 3D-printed homes are rising in Desert Hot Springs, California, about 10 miles north of Palm Springs. Three of the four-bedroom residences, which include accessory dwelling units, have recently been listed at $995,000 each. The homes, sited in a 22-acre gated community of hilltop dwellings, are expected to be completed by year-end
“The homes are the first 3D-printed zero-net-energy homes in the world,” says Basil Starr, founder and chief executive of Beverly Hills-based Palari Group, the technology-driven developer of sustainable communities that is spearheading the build.
Although some developers extrude entire homes atop foundations (picture an automated garage-size hot glue gun), the Coachella Valley homes favor modular 3D-printed walls extruded offsite combined with prefabricated kitchen cabinets, bathroom pods and roof cassettes. Mighty Buildings manufactures the customizable home kits at its Oakland, Calif., factory. Eighty percent of the homes’ exteriors are 3D printed.
The main residences have two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each home includes a pergola attached to a 680-square-foot two-bedroom, one-bathroom ADU, for a total property size of about 1,866 square feet. Features include a pool, spa and deck; a desert garden; solar panels; and a carport with an electric car charger. Add-ons include cabanas, fire pits and outdoor showers.
Unlike less sophisticated 3D-printed homes created entirely on-site, the Desert Hot Springs residences are sleek, minimalist and smart, with system automation by Brilliant. Designs recall the homes built for the midcentury Case Study House Program. Launched in 1945, the radical post-war housing experiment aimed to create efficient, aesthetically pleasing homes that the masses could afford. The project failed, but the Case Study homes that were built are now venerated by architectural cognoscenti.
The urbane elegance of such light-infused dwellings is exactly what Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects had in mind when imagining the Desert Hot Springs residences, a design they call “Quatro.” And EYRC, an American Institute of Architects award winner, has the cred to do it. In 1998 the firm designed a complementary addition to the 1938 Lewin Residence, a Richard Neutra masterwork at the base of the Santa Monica bluffs.
The homes’ black, white and tan color scheme is realized with floor-to-ceiling black steel windows by Andersen, glazed white tile, quartz countertops, stainless steel fixtures and white oak cabinetry. The floors are luxury vinyl plank. Ceilings reach nine feet.
The homes sit on 9,500-square-foot lots. A utility core serving the kitchen and bathrooms separates the living spaces from the bedrooms. Kitchens include high-end appliances, and bathrooms are graced with Porcelanosa tile. Water and air filtration is by Delos.
The 3D process is visible on the homes’ 18 exterior panels, where thin vertical ribs were laid down by the factory printer. The look adds texture and interest to the box-like design and, in fact, is used as a selling point. “We personally really like that aesthetic, and we’ve received lots of good feedback on it,” Starr says.
The 4-foot by 11-foot panels are built using Mighty Buildings’ proprietary material called Light Stone, a fast-curing polymer composite composed of 60% recycled elements. The panels, which have the look and feel of stone, are coated with epoxy-based primer and acrylic paint. Light Stone resists water, mold, mildew and insects. The homes are also earthquake- and hurricane-resistant.
Each home’s shell is nearly airtight, giving it thermal resistance twice what building codes require, Starr says. Heat-reflecting window coatings and automated blinds help tame the desert’s punishing heat.
“The homes are also extremely soundproof,” Starr adds. “Especially in the desert where it can get quite windy. You walk inside the house and you hear absolutely nothing.”
A traditional home can take 9 to 12 months to build, but Palari builds turnkey dwellings in half the time and with far less labor, Starr says. Palari is the general contractor for its projects and also designs and sources components from other manufacturers. Mighty Buildings, founded in 2017, claims a 99% reduction in waste per home compared to traditional construction, which adds considerable waste to landfills.
“I see 3D printing as a transformational disruptive technology,” Starr says. “It’s leading a manufacturing revolution across all industries, and housing is a part of that.”
Eighty percent of the home’s production is automated. The one-ton panels arrive at the site ready to install, affixed to steel frames, and filled with polyurethane foam insulation. The extrusion material itself has four times the tensile and flexural strength as concrete and is 30% lighter.
Carbon-neutral housing is a key selling point in today’s market, especially for younger buyers. “Buyers specifically seek out that type of technology,” says Karen Weinberg, president and co-founder of EQTY Real Estate, based in Palm Desert and Newport Beach. Her firm is co-listing the project with Beverly Hills-based Hilton & Hyland.
Buyers are also seeking ADUs, a versatile enhancement with multiple benefits. In 2017 changes in California laws reduced barriers to building ADUs and streamlined the approval process.
“Multigenerational living is becoming more and more prevalent, people want somewhere their aging parents can stay,” Weinberg says. “Also, professionals are increasingly working from home now, and so having an ADU is optimal –– a separate office space a few steps from your home.” ADUs also provide a space for guests.
Coachella Valley ADUs (and homes) can generate substantial rental income. The area is a hotbed for high-profile international gatherings: Palm Springs Modernism Week, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and sports events, among numerous others. Desert Hot Springs also has less restrictive short-term rental regulations than many other Coachella Valley cities.
“A young entrepreneur could live in the ADU and rent out the main residence,” says Hilton & Hyland co-lister Chris Evangelatos. “That can pay the mortgage, and essentially you can almost live there rent-free.”
Desert Hot Springs, a 40-minute drive from Joshua Tree National Park, has long been the sleepy outlier among Coachella Valley cities. But that’s changing.
In December 2022 the city council approved plans for a mixed-use project with retail shops, two hotels and a one-million-square-foot warehouse and distribution center. The city recently more than doubled its maximum building height in its industrial zone.
In nearby Rancho Mirage another 3D-printed development is rising; it’s also represented by EQTY and Hilton & Hyland. Developed by Palari and manufactured by Mighty Buildings, the 30 five-bedroom homes (three bedrooms in a main residence and two in an adjoining ADU) are expected to be complete by the end of 2024. Called the “Super Quatro,” the homes are designed by EYRC Architects.