Airbnb unveils initiative to build and sell homes for sharing

December 03, 2018 16:54
Airbnb co-founder and chief product officer Joe Gebbia leads the company's innovation lab Samara, which will run the new initiative called Backyard. Photo: Samara

Airbnb is expanding its home-sharing business by building and selling "affordable" homes that are "designed to be shared".

The company said it will start testing prototype homes as soon as next year under the new initiative called Backyard, US business magazine Fast Company reports.

Samara, the design studio and innovation lab at Airbnb, is handling the initiative.

Airbnb co-founder and chief product officer Joe Gebbia, who also leads Samara, told Fast Company in an email that the initiative will include small prefabricated dwellings, green building materials, standalone houses, and multi-unit complexes.

Gebbia said: “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.”

The initiative will assess how novel manufacturing techniques, connected devices and feedback from Airbnb users and hosts can be used to “re-imagine the design of homes” that adapt to flexible living arrangements.

Fast Company said the new housing units under the Backyard initiative will be “optimal for Airbnb rentals to anyone who is interested in hosting”, which may also support co-living. Airbnb did not disclose details on specifications and cost of the structure.

The first wave of prototypes is expected to reach the market in autumn of 2019, but it is unclear how Airbnb can generate revenue and profit from the initiative.

In its announcement, Airbnb said it has assembled a team for Backyard that “includes industrial designers, interaction designers, architects, roboticists, mechanical and hardware engineers, material specialists and policy experts”.

Market watchers believe Backyard will add real estate development to the company's business portfolio as part of preparations for a potential initial public offering in 2019.

Asked about business prospects, Gebbia said his team is “interested in thoughtfully exploring the opportunity and doing something transformative, similar to how Airbnb did it when it started”.

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