Airbnb is designing and building houses now

The lodgings company plans to unveil prototypes of pre-fabricated homes in 2019.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Airbnb is riffing on different types of house models.


Airbnb is moving from home rentals to home building too. 

The lodgings company introduced a new product on Thursday called "Backyard." The idea is to provide people with prototypes of different styles of pre-fabricated homes. These buildings could be set up in people's backyards or be freestanding houses, according to Fast Company. In their construction, these homes are meant to minimize waste and maximize eco-friendly building.

"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," Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia said in a statement.

It's not quite clear what Backyard homes will look like or how Airbnb plans to make money off them. Gebbia said he's just getting started recruiting a team of architects, designers and engineers to work on the project. He expects to unveil some of the prototype units by fall 2019.

Pre-fabricated homes aren't anything new. Sears famously shipped pre-fabricated Craftsman houses across the US from 1908 to 1940. And Amazon has even started selling shipping container homes through its website.

Airbnb has gone from a website for couch surfers to having a massive online presence in the last decade. It lists roughly 5 million homes for rent in more than 81,000 cities. But that growth has come with increasing scrutiny from city regulators and criticism over exacerbating the housing crunch. The company has battled local governments, from San Francisco to New York to London.

Though it's worked out deals with many of those regulators, it's had to scale down its offerings and adjust to rules that require hosts to register with cities and that curb how many nights a year people can rent out a home. 

That means Airbnb has needed to rethink its business to stay competitive and gear up for its anticipated initial public offering in 2019. Over the past couple of years, it's expanded from offering homes for short-term rentals to letting travelers book day trips and restaurant reservations. It's also partnered with major landlords in California and Florida to allow for Airbnb rentals through their buildings.

Now, with the addition of Backyard, the company is also getting into the architecture and construction business. Gebbia said it's about more than just profit, however. It's also about adding smartly designed housing to a world that might need it.

"In order to meet the demands of the future, whether it be climate displacement or rural-urban migration, the home needs to evolve," Gebbia said. "For us, this goes beyond a business opportunity. It's a social responsibility."

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