Airbnb is now adding "architect" and "urban planner" to its repertoire. The home-sharing leader's futures division, Samara, is launching its "Backyard" initiative to model new ways to share and build homes.
The first wave of prototype buildings are slated for public release in 2019. Airbnb chief product officer, cofounder, and Samara founder Joe Gebbia tells Fast Company that rather than simply building accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the premise is more grand. Prefabricated homes, green building materials, multi-unit complexes, and detached dwellings are all part of the program's arsenal, with the overarching mission of being a producer and marketplace for selling a variety of homes and parts of homes.
Gebbia says there is a moral imperative to ensure that new homes are designed well, with a small environmental footprint, and he suggests Backyard is up to the task. But the initiative also represents a significant opportunity for Airbnb to diversify its business. The company is a digital product, after all, ever vulnerable to being replaced by a hungry competitor. Buildings are physical entities. They’re real estate and the world’s infrastructure. A software company that wants to future-proof itself could do worse than investing in buildings.