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Is Airbnb’s next move building houses?

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Airbnb wants to “reimagine the design of homes”

A leader in the home-sharing industry, California-based Airbnb has big ambitions. Two months ago the company announced new initiatives aimed at the corporate travel market, and in 2016 Airbnb built a community center in a small Japanese town as the first project of its “innovation lab” called Samara. Airbnb has also taken an increasingly hands-on role advising development companies that are building customized complexes for home-sharing.

Today, the $31-billion company announced Backyard, an ambitious but so far vague new project from Samara. As the company’s co-founder, Joe Gebbia, puts it, Backyard is “an endeavor to design and prototype new ways of building and sharing homes.” Airbnb wants to use sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and its experience in the vacation rental industry to “reimagine the design of homes.”

In order to accomplish this task, Airbnb says it has assembled a team that “includes industrial designers, interaction designers, architects, roboticists, mechanical and hardware engineers, material specialists and policy experts.”

Architectural models as part of the Backyard prototype.
Courtesy of Samara

There’s no indication what the Backyard prototype—reportedly in development—will look like. Photos from the Samara website show a tarp, tents with construction equipment, and (rather bizarrely) a llama. Fast Company, which interviewed Gebbia, surmised that the buildings could be prefabricated dwellings, standalone houses, or multi-unit complexes. But 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.”

There are currently more questions than answers surrounding Airbnb’s latest announcement, although Wallpaper reports that Samara is looking to offer Backyard test units as soon as autumn 2019. Whenever and however Backyard looks when it hits the market, it’s another indication that Airbnb is attempting to diversify its company and expand from the digital sphere by investing in the built environment.