It seems Airbnb is not content to remain solely a software platform. The company wanted a product as real and tangible as the places one rents via its websites, and today, it announced what that product will be... well, sort of? The description of spin-off project Backyard still sounds pretty vague to us: It's part sustainable home-design company, part futuristic dreamscape.
“Backyard investigates how buildings could utilize sophisticated manufacturing techniques, smart-home technologies, and gains vast insight from the Airbnb community to thoughtfully respond to changing owner or occupant needs over time,” Airbnb co-founder and chief product officer Joe 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.”
Backyard is itself the offspring of Airbnb's design studio Samara, which launched in 2016 to explore "the future of human connection." In the case of Backyard, the company is thinking about the future in terms of the fact that new construction is a massive contributor to greenhouse gases, but still a necessity given our growing population and the need for migration due to climate change itself. To that end, Backyard hopes to develop a prototype that will leave a much smaller carbon footprint and create less waste. The 'human connection' element of Backyard is the fact that these homes will be designed to be shared. The details of how they'll be shared remains vague.
"Backyard is about creating new options for people, whether they’re Airbnb hosts or not," Gebbia told FC. "We’re interested in making it easier for people to find new places to call home."
As FC points out, this is interesting, given that Airbnb is often blamed for making it harder for people to find or keep homes, as housing gets rented out for profitable short-term vacationers instead of long-term residents, driving up demand and costs. Will the company restore its image by solving this problem? Its test units will go public next year, so we're still a long way from finding out. In the meantime, lull your skepticism with the quirky episodic story (with sheep and ghosts!) told on the Samara website.