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TED@Westpac

Sarah Murray: A playful solution to the housing crisis

Filmed:
775,177 views

Frustrated by her lack of self-determination in the housing market, Sarah Murray created a computer game that allows home buyers to design a house and have it delivered to them in modular components that can be assembled on-site. Learn how her effort is putting would-be homeowners in control of the largest purchase of their lives -- as well as cutting costs, protecting the environment and helping provide homes for those in need.

- Digital housing developer
Sarah Murray is building a future of democratized design and construction. Full bio

Hi.
00:13
My name's Sarah,
00:14
and I've been priced out
of the housing market.
00:17
In fact,
00:21
I'm one of the majority of my generation
00:24
who can't afford a home.
00:27
And in 2017, home ownership
amongst young Australians
00:31
has fallen to the lowest level
in recorded history.
00:36
So, foolishly or otherwise,
00:42
I decided to build my own home.
00:46
But the prognosis
wasn't good there, either.
00:49
Architects cater for the one percent,
00:53
builders are scarce,
00:56
so service is inconsistent
and prices are high.
00:57
The single biggest investment in my life,
01:02
and I was amazed
how little self-determination,
01:06
choice
01:10
and, ultimately, control I had.
01:12
What's more, I was doubly surprised
at how vulnerable this made me feel.
01:16
Frankly, I felt trapped.
01:22
So, I reflected on this
for quite some time.
01:27
And I realized
01:33
what I wanted was democratized
design and construction.
01:34
And that led to me asking
one very simple question:
01:41
What is building a house?
01:47
What is it?
01:51
Well, it turns out that building a house
01:52
is making a series of decisions,
some with physical consequences,
01:57
within a defined set of parameters.
02:02
Now, having worked in software
applications for some time now,
02:06
this all sounded very familiar to me.
02:10
I also couldn't understand
why we build on-site.
02:13
No other major assembly in our lives
is constructed like this.
02:18
Your car doesn't come to you in pieces
02:23
with an extra 10 percent just in case,
02:26
to be assembled at the mercy
of the elements.
02:29
So why should your house?
02:32
So I built a computer game.
02:36
A game that allows you to design your home
02:40
and have it delivered to you.
02:43
A game that puts the home builder
02:45
back at the center of the largest
purchase in their life,
02:49
elevating them from spectator to player.
02:55
A game with full visibility of the costs
and environmental impact
03:00
of each new attribute you add.
03:05
Using modular components,
players select items from their library
03:08
and drag them into their world.
03:13
Each item, be it a wall, a solar battery
or even an armchair,
03:16
contains all of the information
for the system to calculate costs,
03:22
environmental impact
03:26
and even a happiness tally for the player.
03:28
Eighty-three percent of home builders
said that next to cost,
03:33
environmentally friendly features
were the most important things to them.
03:37
So out of the gate, homes
are integrated with solar systems.
03:42
Born green.
03:47
Sustainable housing is often associated
with wealth and affluence,
03:50
but that shouldn't be the case.
03:54
In fact, truly sustainable housing
should be available to everyone
03:56
and affordable for all.
04:01
So, I had found a way to get
the control back that I was craving
04:04
and give it to others.
04:12
But something was still bugging me,
04:15
something was still
keeping me up at night.
04:16
What about those people
04:21
who have genuinely no control
over where they live?
04:23
Every hour -- in the space
of your intermission --
04:29
4,000 new homes are needed in the world.
04:33
Wrap your head around that number.
04:38
That's an astonishing 35 million homes
globally, every year.
04:41
And in Australia alone,
04:49
we have a shortfall of 250,000 dwellings.
04:51
And in addition to that,
04:56
we have 190,000 families
on the assisted-housing wait list;
04:59
families in need of a home.
05:06
Between now and 2050,
05:11
when the global population
is set to move from today's 7.6 billion
05:14
to tomorrow's 9.8 billion people,
05:21
hundreds of millions of people
05:26
will experience security, health
and safety issues.
05:30
Imagine if you can
not feeling secure in your home --
05:37
not from crime, not from theft,
05:42
but from the fact
that the building you're in --
05:46
the building you're in --
05:49
might not be structurally sound
05:50
or built from nontoxic components
05:53
or meet local natural disaster standards.
05:55
It's the 21st century.
06:00
And this just isn't good enough.
06:03
What if -- what if --
06:09
we could restore control and dignity
to those individuals
06:13
by giving them a home,
but not just any home:
06:18
their home,
06:23
and a home of their design.
06:24
We're currently adapting our game
so that when a player builds a home,
06:27
they're contributing to a home
for someone in need.
06:31
And I know this sounds like a lofty goal,
06:35
and it is ridiculously ambitious,
06:38
but today, our current operating model
06:40
operates at a ten-to-one ratio.
06:43
So for every 10 homes we build,
06:46
we can build a home for someone in need.
06:49
(Applause)
06:52
This is made possible because today,
06:58
with design for manufacture and assembly,
07:01
which uses light gauge
steel frame construction,
07:05
shipped and assembled on-site,
07:10
we can decrease construction
costs by 20 percent
07:12
and environmental waste by 15 percent,
07:15
saving time, money
07:18
and keeping tons of waste
out of landfills.
07:20
The power in modular construction
07:24
is that you can build year-round
with confidence in your costs,
07:27
in your quality,
07:33
and in your delivery date,
in your build date.
07:35
Now, wouldn't that be crazy?
Wouldn't that be great?
07:38
But --
07:41
that doesn't get me to my goal.
07:45
My goal is one-for-one.
07:47
So I've been traveling the world,
07:52
looking at different alternatives
of construction 3-D printing,
07:55
trying to find technology
that will help me deliver on my ambition.
07:58
3-D printing is so exciting
and so promising,
08:02
offering a 40 percent reduction in cost
and near zero waste.
08:07
And this is just to name a few,
08:12
but some of the really exciting
innovations happening all over the world
08:14
are happening in Italy, France,
Dubai and Australia.
08:17
And they use robotic arms
to print everything from solid stone
08:21
to concrete, to wax.
08:25
In Italy, they have developed
a technique using sorel cement.
08:26
Sorel cement was originally
invented in 1867,
08:31
and it's the beautiful chemical marriage
of magnesium oxide and local sand,
08:36
which they can now use
to print solid stone walls.
08:42
And in France,
08:46
they have a regulator-approved
although still experimental process
08:47
where they print two parallel
tracks of foam insulation
08:51
and pour concrete in the middle
to create solid stone.
08:54
And in Dubai, sitting at the foot
of those two glorious Emirates Towers,
08:59
is a vision of the future
in the middle of the desert.
09:04
They've got their experimental
office of the future,
09:07
which is constructed
using 3-D printed concrete
09:11
which was printed in China
09:14
and shipped and assembled
on location in Dubai.
09:16
And not to be outdone,
09:19
in Australia, we've pioneered
an amazing technology
09:20
that allows you to print wax molds
09:24
and pour concrete over the top of them,
09:26
allowing you to create really intricately
beautiful and cost-effective facades
09:29
that you can see in person
09:35
the next time you travel
the London Underground.
09:36
But all of these things are tools --
09:38
hammer of tomorrow, if you like.
09:42
And the one common thread
that connects all these things
09:44
is computer-aided design.
09:47
We will need models
to build using these techniques,
09:50
models like the ones being developed
by players in our game.
09:55
I want to put every person that wants one
10:02
in a home of their own design.
10:06
And there are many
more applications still.
10:09
We could usher in an entirely new
empowered experience
10:12
of special needs
or aged-care accommodation.
10:17
And we could provide rapid,
on-site assistance
10:20
in emergency housing situations.
10:23
In the words of one of my players,
10:26
"I want to take matters into my own hands
10:28
and live by example."
10:31
Thank you.
10:35
(Applause)
10:36
Translated by Ivana Korom
Reviewed by Camille Martínez

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About the speaker:

Sarah Murray - Digital housing developer
Sarah Murray is building a future of democratized design and construction.

Why you should listen

Sarah Murray dreams of a future where sustainable housing is available for everyone and affordable for all. She's building this future, with PLACE Technologies, a digital manufacturing social enterprise powered by the PLACE game, a computer game that allows players to design their own homes and have them delivered to them. For every ten homes PLACE builds,  they will house someone in need.

As an entrepreneur in residence with 15 years experience and a graduate of the prestigious Stanford LEAD program, Murray passionately applies this powerful cocktail of skills and experience to the challenges of some of the world's largest organizations and society's most intractable issues.

More profile about the speaker
Sarah Murray | Speaker | TED.com