The physical world

George Sell By George Sell
Uploaded 27 December 2018

Three things immediately struck me about Airbnb's move in to the home design and building arena with its new Backyard subsidiary.

The first is that for a company which, despite its huge value and reach, operates purely in the digital space, moving in to the nitty gritty of building houses might be something of a culture shock. Construction sites are often inhospitable and unforgiving places, subject to the vagaries of the weather and human error.

It's clear from Airbnb's statements that it is aiming to mitigate against a lot of the variables involved in construction by coming up with innovative new techniques, which will invariably involve prefabricated and modular building methods. Large parts of its homes are likely to be made in factories by robots and transported to their final locations, where they can literally be bolted together.

The second striking thing about Backyard is the sheer ambition expressed by Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia when he said the project could become as big as Airbnb itself. "We're optimising for Backyard's potential. We're interested in thoughtfully exploring the opportunity and doing something transformative, similar to how Airbnb did when it started," he said.

And thirdly, the project's name made me smile. The company which is locking horns with regulators across the world must surely be aware of the opposition that practically every new-build housing development encounters from the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) brigade, and the project name can be no coincidence.

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