Page 1



HOME WORK: CONTEMPORARY HOUSING DELIVERY SYSTEMS Edited by Ivan Rupnik in collaboration with Jacqueline Mossman NEU CONFERENCE SERIES 2



HOME WORK: CONTEMPORARY HOUSING DELIVERY SYSTEMS NEU CONFERENCE SERIES 2 School of Architecture Northeastern University 151 Ryder Hall 360 Huntington Ave Boston, MA 02115 617.373.8959 The texts and images included in this booklet are intended for academic purpose only. No part of this booklet may be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted or distributed in any way for commercial purposes. Copyright Š 2012 School of Architecture Northeastern University

Northeastern University

Ta b l e o f C o n t e n t s 6-7


George Thrush


Introduction to Home/Work

Ivan Rupnik


Dwell Magazine

Karrie Jacobs


Home Delivery, MoMA

Peter Christensen


Modular Housing Regulations Matthew Littell


Disciplinary Roles, Public Perception & Industry Regulations

Ivan Rupnik, Peter Christensen, Karrie Jacobs, Matthew Littell


e3c0 System

Peter Weiderspahn


Blu Homes

Sarah Jazmine



Mark Johnson


Resolution 4 Architecture

Joe Tanney


Housing Delivery: Case Studies

Ivan Rupnik, Peter Weiderspahn, Joe Tanney, Mark Johnson, Sarah Jazmine


Delivering Futures: Sustainability & Regional Planning

George Thrush, Peter Roth, David Wax, Kiel Moe, Ivan Rupnik


The Panelists




Foreword George Thrush HOME WORK: Contemporary Housing Delivery Systems is part of a series of events conceived to engage the core challenges and opportunities facing architecture and its role in shaping our cities. This series has included conferences and symposia on a wide range of topics, including the architect’s role in the design and conception of infrastructure; the intersection of typology as a theoretical construct and as a real estate system of valuation; and more broadly, the evolution of the public review process and its role in shaping cities since the 1960s. Assistant Professor Ivan Rupnik, who conceived and hosted the conference, saw HOME WORK fit into a pattern of topics where the School seeks to engage the prototypical rather than the eccentric, and the market-driven, rather than the curated. There are many challenges facing the design world that fit this charge, but it would be hard to find one that has occupied more of the architectural imagination in the past century than prefabricated housing. The idea of using industrialized manufacturing to broaden access to modern, comfortable, and efficient housing is one of the most enduring aspirations in modern architecture. Yet for many reasons it has proven to be frustratingly difficult to achieve at the kind of large scale that the early moderns envisioned. Instead, the so-called “stick-built,” on site building construction methods have continued to prevail over the factory methods. However, the arguments for improving the quality and affordability, as well as the design– of housing in the United States continue to grow. And so, again, as in previous generations, we turn our attention to the process by which we design, construct, and deliver our housing stock. With the growth of environmental imperatives for energy performance in buildings, this trend

Northeastern University

will only increase. Of course Northeastern’s School of Architecture is not the only institution to explore this issue. In 2008, The Museum of Modern Art in New York mounted Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling. The exhibition was divided into two distinct parts - the first, an impressive history of pre-fabricated housing over the past 100 years. The second part focused on five speculations about where prefabricated housing might go next. It was on this latter half that HOME WORK: Contemporary Housing Delivery Systems sought to build. It seems that the notion of pre-fabricated housing remained, for a long time, insufficiently tied to the realities of the market-driven building industry, including design, marketing, fabrication, assembly, and delivery. This conference seeks to identify the opportunities that come from studying at our housing industry as it exists today, and to identify new opportunities for architects to work in collaboration with industry to ultimately deliver on that long promised dream of modern architecture: the affordable home.




Introduction Ivan Rupnik The call for the industrialization of building, particularly housing, dominated the architectural discourse for the majority of the twentieth century. The “dream of the factory made house� became a reality in many European countries during the early postwar period. By tis time, many of the leaders of architectural discourse began dreaming of the monumental, the hand crafted, and other issues which were seemingly at odds with the industrialized housing delivery. In North America, rationalized and systematized housing construction had an even longer history, defined by the specific political economy of construction, characterized by unskilled labor, early mechanization of tools, and an abundance of natural resources. The balloon frame in the mid 19th century and the industrialized building site of the postwar subdivision may be most indicative of this building culture. While the specific histories of the industrialization of building trades in North America and Europe diverge, there was a common discourse which brought together architects on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere. This discourse included somewhat consistent, although hotly debated issues, and brought these architects together for the first time since the First World War. Before discussing the specific structure and provisional conclusions of this conference, it would be worthwhile to get a feel for the consistent preoccupations and unresolved issues of the architectural discourse on industrialized building. “The manufacturer as a rule groups his tools, human and mechanical, at one location, possibly under one roof, in any case in one plant. His forces, under effective direction, may work as a unit; one branch of the industry is within sound of the whir of machinery incident to the next step in the process of manufacture. Such contact makes for unity, and system may more nearly follow the points of least resistance. A contractor has no

Northeastern University

such grouping of his forces by location to aid him. One structure is erected in one state and another perhaps a thousand miles distant. The one building may be a factory, the other a city sky-scraper. Both are structures, but further than this the analogy may cease. Such conditions, peculiar as they are to the industry, must be met by a completeness of organization, and by an effectiveness and comprehensiveness of systematization, which will make for results in the strenuous competition which obtains in the building trade.” - Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Field System, 1908 “A question in the new spirit: I am 40 years old, why not buy myself a house: for I need this tool; a house like the Ford I bought (or my Citroen if I’m a dandy).” - Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture, 1923 “If only Renault, Peugot, Citroen, Le Creusot, or one of the big metallurgists could organize the building industry! The window, considered as a mechanism. Automatically sliding, air-tight fit. Give us the mechanical window! We architects will be very happy with a fixed module. Once we have that module, we can start composing with it.” - Le Corbusier, “Appeal to Industrialists”, 1925 “Standardization of parts places no restrictions on the individual design. Their recurrence in differently shaped buildings will have an orderly and soothing effect as does the uniformity of our clothes. And by the same token there will be enough scope for an individual’s or a nation’s character to express itself. Pre-prepared variable housing obtainable from stocks will in the coming decades be one of the main products of industry.” - Walter Gropius, “How can we build more economical, better, more attractive houses?” (1927).


10 H O M E / W O R K “(t)he great attraction of the manufactured house is the promise not only of efficiency but of cheapness, due to the competitive production of houses in large quantities. It is doubtful if this will prove to be a great element in reducing the cost of housing. The reason is simple. The shell of the building is not the largest element in the cost; the cost of money, the rent of land, the cost of utilities, including streets, mains, sewers and sewage disposal plants, are among the major items on the bill… In short: the manufactured house cannot escape its proper site costs and its communal responsibilities... and the mere ability to purchase such houses easily and plant them anywhere would only add to the communal chaos that now threatens every semi-urban community.” - Lewis Mumford, “Mass Production and the Modern House” in Architectural Record (1930) “Any unit or combination of units manufactured or cut to size before being brought to the building site can, in a literal sense, be called prefabrication. Do I have to live in a box? Do we all have to live in the same kind of house? Suppose there are four major (automobile) manufacturers and that each manufacturer produces 4 makes 4 x 4 = 16 and that each make comes in an average of seventeen models 16 X 17 = 272 and that each model may be had in six different colors 272X6=1632 Then in four years there will have been produced and made available 6528 cars each different from the other. Is this not conclusive evidence of the ability of industry to offer from the production line a wide choice?” - Eames Charles, John Entenza, and Herbert Matter, “What is a House?” in Arts and Architecture Magazine (July 1944) “The main aim was to organize housing construction with a regular flow, as on an assembly line. How could we break down the elements of housing construction into component parts? We ourselves didn’t know. No constructive solution to this problem existed. Again we began to search our way. We didn’t have any foreign

Northeastern University

models to follow. Neither in America nor in Europe had such methods yet been used. We had to think them up ourselves, and the majority of our construction engineers were not trained or prepared to do that. I decided to bring in mechanical engineers who already had accumulated an enormous amount of experience in designing machines that required great accuracy.” - Nikita Khruschev, Memoirs “In the USA 90% of buildings are built by industrial methods - there are no building factories in the European sense - while in Europe very little indeed is being built industrially there being any number of building factories… an architect necessarily turns into a designer if he plans for industrial technology and industrial organization of building activities.” - Zeljko Solar, “How to manufacture an apartment” Dizajn (1968) “A long standing problem of increasing urgency has been how to provide low- income groups with decent permanent housing. Since the beginning of the century, many have regarded industrialized building methods as the most promising means of solving this problem if mass production techniques applied so successfully to automobiles could be applied to residential building. It is only since World War II, however, that programs have been undertaken in Europe on a sufficient scale and for a sufficient period of time that some practical evaluation of these methods can be attempted. … while industrialized building is diametrically opposed to traditional building employing only handicraft methods, it is not altogether different from rationalized conventional methods.” - Department of Housing and Urban Development, “Industrialized Building: A comparative analysis of European Expirience” (1968) “Many things are built in the world at large: aircraft, cars, machine-tools, works of art, etc .... The individual or collective dwelling, the public building are objects


12 H O M E / W O R K constructed on a par with things such as these.” - Jean Prouve, The Organization of Building (1971) “Cars, ships, and planes must even move through space, while buildings, relatively static artifacts, are rooted in place. Ships are larger than most buildings and generally dynamic. It is too easy to dismiss these examples as having no relevance for architecture, which is fixed to the ground and custom crafted in the field rather than factory produced. There are lessons that can be examined and transferred from our sister industries to architecture… The answer lies first in the emergence of the process engineer, the designer of methods… The product engineer locates, exploits, and transfers materials from one realm to another to apply them to new use in building and architecture from earlier uses in other fields, such is product design, shipbuilding, car manufacturing, and aircraft production.” - KieranTimberlake, Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies are Poised to Transform Building Construction (2004) This abbreviated sampling of quotes cannot fully encompass a century of debates surrounding the issue of industrialized housing delivery, but it can serve to set the mood for a more narrowly framed discussion. The most consistent point of reference for all of the architects, from Le Corbusier to Charles Eames to KieranTimberlake, is the automobile, or more precisely the automotive industry as a model for the industrialization of the building trades. Gilbert Herbert calls this the “Henry Ford syndrome,” questioning “why can’t we mass-produce houses, standard, well-designed, at low cost, in the same way Ford massproduce cars?”# This seems to imply a second question, namely if the automotive industry is such an ideal model for the industrialization of the building trades, why has this not happened over the last eight or more decades? The “Ford syndrome” also implies that architects feel that the building trades have not themselves industrialized. While they certainly may not have exactly followed the

Northeastern University

automotive industries approach, the building trades have been industrializing since the mid nineteenth century.# As Frank Gilbreth points out, the problems of contracting and manufacturing are inherently different and demand different approaches. In fact Gilbreth, one of the first “process engineers”, began his career as a contractor but found manufacturing of various products including automobiles an easier and more profitable task. Gilbreth and his wife and partner Lillian Gilbreth, adapted the complex organizational systems demanded by building construction to the controlled environment of the factory. This is not to say that architects like Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Ernst May, did not follow the work of early industrialized builders like Gilbreth, who was not technically an architect, or Grovsener Atterbury, an architect who experimented extensively with plattenbau-like systems before 1918.# They seemed to prefer associating industrialization with a trade previously unassociated with architecture. During the sixties the Department of Housing and Urban Development with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency, carefully studied and documented the massive Soviet industrialized housing delivery system. Nikita Khruschev himself likened this system to the assembly line logic of the automotive industry in order to develop “Operation Breakthrough.” The lessons of these experiments, both rich in real trial and colossal error, have not yet entered into the main stream of the architectural discourse.# With this broader history in mind, this conference sought to negotiate between long held disciplinary obsessions and the current state of industrialized housing delivery in North America through three distinct panels. The first panel provided a broader social, cultural, and regulatory context for the issue. The second panel brought together four contemporary industrialized housing delivery systems. The third and final panel served to articulate a number of unresolved issues for industrialized building ranging from urbanism to energy performance. The first panel, titled “Disciplinary Roles, Public Perceptions,


14 H O M E / W O R K Industry Regulations”, began with a presentation on the exhibit Home Delivery, given by Peter Christensen, one of the curators of this exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In addition to providing a brief overview of the discourse surrounding industrialized building, Peter provided insight into some of the motivations in this and previous MoMA exhibitions to actively promote this type of architecture to a broader public. Peter was followed by Matthew Littell, a practicing architect and founding partner of Utile, whose research focused on regulations regarding manufactured housing since the 1970s in the United States. The third presentation, by Karrie Jacobs, the founding editor-in-chief of Dwell magazine, provided a unique insight into that publications successful promotion of a kind of “prefab” wohnen kultur during the last decade. The panel discussion provided an opportunity to compare the influences of a cultural institution, federal building codes, and lifestyle oriented journalism on architecture. The second panel, titled “Housing Delivery Case Studies”, brought together four distinct but comprehensive contemporary housing delivery systems. The “Modern Modular” was developed by Resolution 4 Architecture and presented by founding partner, Joseph Tanney. It is a design system which leverages the unexplored and untapped logic of the modular housing industry to produce dozens of unique buildings based on a common set of manufactured cellular components. The e3Co System, developed by Peter Wiederspahn in collaboration with a group of graduate students at Northeastern University, is a modified SIPS panel system developed through the framework of an academic institution and partnerships with industry. Hometta, presented by one of its founders,Mark Johnson, is a delivery system which provides an interface between architect, custom builder or manufacturer, and client. Bluhomes, presented by Sarah Jazmine, combines design and manufacturing into system. Each of these systems were chosen, on one hand, because of their distinct starting points and their comprehensiveness on the other. During the discussion followin the individual presentations, many of the presenters first became aware of what made their

Northeastern University

approach distinct and began to notice useful aspects of the various other approaches presented for use in their own delivery strategies. The final panel, titled “Delivering Futures – Sustainability and Regional Planning,” was conceived as a response to the prior two panels as well as a platform for raising new issues that industrialized housing delivery will have to address in the future - particularly its relation to urban planning and development as well as to energy performance. While Lewis Mumford’s earlier quote suggest that these issues have been on the table for some time, architects and other professionals have tended to focus on the individual objects themselves and not necessarily the broader impact of the delivery systems. George Thrush raised the idea of the potential of industrialized housing delivery to be considered as part of a broader economic strategy for the former industrial towns of New England. Peter Roth and David Wax brought up a number of issues related to the current housing market as well as the logics of contemporary subdivision development, which in many ways directly influence the application of industrialized housing delivery systems by companies like Bay Home Builders and Toll Brothers. Kiel Moe brought up a number of issues related to the energy performance of the case studies in the second panel, evaluating the efficiency of the production of a unit prior to occupation, as well as during its use. While he agreed that the systems approach allowed for the consideration of these performance issues he pointed out that most of the projects were for single-family homes which are inherently inefficient from a sustainability standpoint. The third panel, as well as the round-up discussion which emerged from it, highlighted the successes of the conferences. These included articulating a relatively imprecise terminology surrounding “prefab” as well as suggesting the much broader role which the designer can play in designing housing delivery systems as exemplified by the four distinct case studies. Also discussed were the future challenges, that face not only industrialized


16 H O M E / W O R K housing delivery but architecture and urbanism as a whole, as populations continue to grow and energy resources continue to shrink. The particular kind of holistic design methodology exemplified by all four case studies may not have entirely addressed all of the issues raised by the first or the third panels, yet what became clear from the course of the conference is that this kind of system thinking did provide the basis for an architectural equivalent of what industrial designers and process engineers have called “whole-life cost” or “life-cycle cost” design. The material generated by this conference will provide a basis for continued research at Northeastern University.

Northeastern University


18 H O M E / W O R K

Dwell Magazine Karrie Jacobs The mission of Dwell, the magazine I started, and the mission of prefab became inextricably linked. The premise is that the notion of manufactured housing keeps coming back. It’s the ultimate modernist fantasy, it’s an idea that has intrigued and moralist defeated Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller and other less illustrious characters. So I guess the thing that I learned is that while prefab has become a movement, it’s never exactly been an industry to the extent that industry involves industrialists, and factories and all of that kind of thing. I think there are a number of good reasons why that is the case. One reason is obviously capitalization, that in this country, as opposed to Sweden or Japan, nobody is really putting that much money into factories to build houses. Or maybe somebody is but I haven’t run into them. The other thing that everyone always says is that if you can make an assembly line to build a car, why can’t you use it to build a house; after all cars are complex, houses are complex. I think the big issue is regulation. That you can drive the same car anywhere in this country, but every municipality, every city, practically every block has its own set of regulations for what can and can’t be built - it makes a major difference. And I really think that that’s one of the factors that make it very difficult to successfully mass produce houses in this country. Production home builders do mass produce houses and every so often I point out that KB Homes or Toll Brothers actually is as close to the ideal that the Modernists and the Bauhaus had about home production as we’re going to get. I mean it doesn’t look that way but they’re actually pretty highly industrialized. There was a piece in Wire a couple of months ago that Chris Anderson wrote about the next industrial revolution. The idea is that with computer-controlled milling machines and the ability to

The cover of one of Dwell magazines issues focusing on prefab homes

A house by Mark & Peter Anderson that was displayed on the cover of Dwell magazin’es “prefab issue

Northeastern University

rapid prototype we can send our files to China and become manufacturers. But the premise of this next industrial revolution is that all of the actual manufacturing takes place in China. I think that it would be a bad thing to outsource our home production to China. I think it would be a really good thing to actually invest in manufacturing because I think there is something really inherently economically and culturally healthy about a manufacturing economy that we’ve lost. In any case, the real thing that I think has happened and the really good thing that’s come out of the prefab decade, something that is genuine, is the way it’s affected the culture of architecture. I think that you know that architects traditionally are trained to think about one-off’s and I think that they’ve begun to think about multiples. A while ago I was writing about a guy who does house plans, and as a result I got the position from the AIA about house plans. Their official position is still, and I hear them quoting, “Society is best served by public building designs that meet the unique or specific requirements inherent in each individual project.” Stock plans are not appropriate for most building types and do not meet this lofty goal. But I think that despite what the AIA says, that’s the thing that’s changing. The notion that architects are just supposed to be making these one-off houses and they shouldn’t be thinking about distributing architecture as information, is dated. So I guess I just want to close by saying that that’s the real issue. I don’t know that prefab is actually going to succeed in those terms but I think culturally a very big thing has happened in the last ten years.


20 H O M E / W O R K

H o m e D e l iv e r y, M o M A Pe t e r C h r i s t e n s e n Revisiting the material just 18 months on has provided me with the opportunity to reflect anew on the project and think about it, not as my task at hand, but more as a part of a moment of architectural history. Within the context of this panel it is important to note that prefabrication and the delivery of the house, the subjects of our exhibition at MoMA, have not necessarily been consonant with affordability, pragmatics, sustainability, or even conventional logic. Rather it is a story that uses affordability as a departure point, a template of sorts from which to imagine the day when houses could be produced assembly line style like Fords. But before one simply equates prefabrication with the dream of the mechanized domicile, it is perhaps more relevant in my role today to imagine how this dream came to pass in the first place. I hope that by sampling a portion of the exhibition’s offerings that I may provide in the very least, a series of snapshots that show how affordability and serial production have rarely existed in a vacuum. Rather [they have existed] as the indivisible corollary to a host of social, spacial, material, political and technological experiments, spanning the scale of the minute single dwelling to the massive urbanization scheme. As an exhibition, Home Delivery paid homage to the tradition of exhibition houses so integral to the history of innovation in modern architecture and so famously associated with the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. [It is] where the museum last displayed, over a halfcentury ago, model houses to offer full-scale experiences of a new wave of thinking about modern living environments. Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of the Department of Architecture Design and the other curator of the exhibition [said] “At the same time, it sets out in anticipation of the 60th anniversary of the merger in 1949 of the museum’s Department of Architecture and that of industrial design to redress a historical oversight, a prejudice even, of the Department of Architecture and its near systemic avoidance of the topic of prefabrication or more accurately,

View of the Home Delivery exhibition at the museum garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York

Northeastern University

industrially-produced off site building.” To this day it would be difficult to argue that the apogee of both commercial and public interest in prefabrication was not the post-war years on both sides of the Atlantic. For us, Marcel Breuer’s house in the museum garden, commissioned by Phillip Johnson, stands as one of the most influential of all exhibitions mounted by the museum in its more than 75 year history exhibiting architecture. Conceived by Johnson as well as Peter Blake, the series brought the full-scale demonstration house out of the realm of the World’s Fair or the marketing lot and into the Lustron House which was displayed nearby, prompting Philip Johnson’s reactionary design of the annals of high art. Carl Strandland, a Swedish inventor, Breuer house envisioned a mass produced house made entirely of steel. In 1948 the first such model, the Westchester Two Bedroom, was manufactured by the Lustron Corporation in a re-appropriated munitions factory in Ohio. This fullscale model Lustron house was erected on a vacant lot on the corner of 52nd Street and 6th Avenue in midtown Manhattan. Phillip Johnson passed this house every day on route to work and considered the house an utter affront to the modernist sensibility of the neighboring museum. And he wasn’t alone. Time Magazine likened living in a Lustron to living in a hot dog stand. Such recent developments also suggest a future in which the traditional mantras of price point and rapidity might be conjoined by the hither to unleash creativity of design and individual clients. The trajectory of this exhibition was one that reached from the industrial logic of the machine age, mass standardization to that of the age of computeraided design and fabrication and mass customization. In the aforementioned golden age decade after the Second World War, with its pressing housing needs, economic prosperity and baby boom, in the 1960s with the introduction of a range of new materials, and again in the last decade in which the capacity of the computer has changed the climate of production as never before. Suddenly, the promise that architectural sophistication, design complexity, and absolute precision can be as much as a part of a prefabricated dwelling as a design

Breuer House on exhibiton at the MoMA museum garden


22 H O M E / W O R K object or a highly-crafted work of individual architecture, has redirected the collective spotlight back on this time trodden line of research. Both the idea and execution of the prefabricated house continues to be architecture’s most enterprising, if not purposeful pursuit; a reflection on the house as a replicable and a simultaneously critical agent in the discourse of sustainability, architectural invention and new formal research. To begin our history was a difficult task and it is challenging to determine at exactly what point in the history of architecture the prefabricated domicile crystallized. We believe the strongest evidence indicates that the manufacturer of homes en-mass was born of the many technological advances achieved by the Industrial Revolution, which is somewhat self-explanatory. In 1833, a cottage for British colonists settling in Australia was designed, manufactured and packaged by a London carpenter by the name of H. Manning. His portable colonial cottage, which was advertised in both British and Australian newspapers, stands as one of the earliest visually documented replicable homes. In the United States, the invention of the nail allowed for the building technique known as the balloon frame to emerge, eliminating the need for highly skilled labor and the intricate workmanship in wood that had been initially imported as part of a long standing European tradition. In this pre-World War II period, we also find Frank Lloyd Wright’s lesser known system-built houses, which imagined countless permutations of house forms with a limited material pallet. Technological innovation is at the foundation of Buckminster Fuller’s Dimaxion House, the iconic Bucky project, as well as two of the houses built for the Century of Progress Exhibition at Chicago’s World Fair of 1933, the Good Housekeeping Stand’s Field House, and the Crystal House by George Fred Keck. Now these projects were side-by-side and it’s pretty amazing to compare them and see how different they are. In addition to his collaboration with Conrad Waxman, Walter Gropius was behind the designs of a series of copper houses designed for Jewish immigrants leaving Europe and

The portable colonial cottage designed by H. Manning in 1833,

Northeastern University

settling in both Israel and Palestine. Both formally and material innovative, these projects embellished traditional materials such as copper and glass for non-traditional uses, employed patents in an effort to secure the design from unattributed replication and harnessed the use of sales catalogs and model homes to market the design. Both World War II and the massive amount of housing needed in its wake charged the manufactured housing industry as it had never been before. No longer was the factory-made house a sort of idealized exercise, it was an imperative, or so we thought. As millions flood the downtowns of New York, Paris and London, the former city dweller fell in love with the new found freedom afforded by a relatively inexpensive free standing dwelling. The War had intertwined industry and government together more than ever before and the potential for the large-scale manufacturer of governmentally sponsored homes never seemed more real. Steel had become the primary building material and experimentation with it was rampant. In France, Jean Prouve was single-handedly revolutionizing factory-produced houses in his Maxéville studio, the birth place of numerous seminal designs born of this single same construction system, including the Maison Tropical, Maison por Lance du Trisse and the Maison Enmudone. The giddy experimentation of the post-war period gave way to significantly more diverse research that would characterize the second half of the 20th century. Prefabricated house types followed material innovations ever more quickly and the realms of architecture and design began to converge more as a result. The 1950s were marked by ground-breaking research in plastics, and followed by the explosion of precast and pre-stressed concrete panel systems in the 1960s and 70s as well as a recurring interest in the concept of the mega structure. American architect, Paul Rudolph, breathed new life into the mobile home using it as a “building brick” in numerous projects, only one of which was realized. Seen together this collection of works gives way to a new era. The advent of computer software designs like AutoCAD and

Jean Prouve’s Maison Tropicale on display in London


24 H O M E / W O R K followed by Form-Z, Maya and others, coupled with great innovation in laser cutting, milling and 3D printing hardware technology, have sparked a flurry of experimentation in recent years. While the formal possibilities seem endless, the potential for unique replicable designs has proven to be more challenging. Leading architects have retired the notion that a single house design or housing scheme is sufficient for contemporary needs. Instead the emphasis has shifted from tenants of “mass standardization” or the ability to reconcile the story embodied in virtually all of the historical projects in our exhibition, to notions of mass customization, the ability to reconcile individual expression with mass production. This interest has spawned the number of distinct approaches that challenge the very definition of prefabrication as a predetermined kit of parts assembled on site.

BURST*008, Jeremy Edmiston and Douglas Gauthier

First, 008 was the second built version of Douglas Gauthier and Jeremy Edminston’s House Formula, which consists of computer-based parameters framed by a client’s needs. The system creates a range of different yet highly related homes that all stem partly from the designers predetermined algorithm. Once the client’s configuration is determined, a computer model is rendered in Form-Z and subsequently breaks down about 1100 non-identical pieces. The pieces are then assigned placement on more than 300 standard 4 x 8 inch plywood sheets using a special efficiency software program that determines the arrangement that will waste the least amount of wood. This adaptable, quasi-mathematical formula driving the house permits infinite variations on the theme supporting a desire to move house production from mass standardization to mass customization. Kieran Timberlake’s Cellophane House’s structural frame consists entirely of off-the-shelf aluminum as a matrix upon which other materials are collected, rather than fixed. The materials not only retain their identities as discreet elements, but may be dissembled instead of demolished in order to be recycled instead of discarded. Consequently, the system of joinery between any two materials is the crux of this project, as this is what

Cellophane House, Kieran+Timberlake

Northeastern University

allows the elements to remain discreet. The component materials here include aluminum framing, steel connectors, P.E.T. plastic film, the aluminum frame, polypropylene sheet walls, aluminum window frames, great polyethylene flooring and stairs. Developing students through studio research conducted by Professor Larry Sass at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the digitally fabricated Housing for New Orleans is an exploration of high technology at low cost. This project evolved from an elemental one-room house design called the Instant House, a construction system designed to adjust to different vernacular context as a sort of undecorated shed. The 196 square foot, shotgun oneroom house was designed for New Orleans and draws upon that city’s rich architectural heritage. It could be rapidly and affordably deployed in New Orleans to assist with the reconstruction in the aftermath of Katrina. And you see there in the background the house and you can see it has a sort of ornamental footing as the applique on top of the undecorated shed here you can have a sort of pixilated historicists detail on it. The project reinvigorates the precut houses of a century ago and transcends the distinction between high technology and historical design. It was pretty amazing to see the five students on the work site with nothing but a rubber mallet putting this together. At a mere 76 square feet and 2.2 tons, this perfect cube packs a remarkable amount of muscle given its tiny size. The Micro-Compact Home, as it is known, is intended to be a modern “machine” for living, taking inspiration from the aerospace and automobile industries. The architects, including Richard Horton, fashioned a high-performance cocoon specifically geared towards a single person with a mobile lifestyle. The house is constructed of a timber frame, clad in a panelized system of durable flat, anodized aluminum sheet, insulated with polyurethane and fitted with aluminum-framed double-glazed windows. Following the installation of the support frame at the chosen site, the Micro-Compact Home is hauled by a truck or trailer and installed with a crane in just a matter of minutes. It can

Housing for New Orleans, Professor Larry Sass in collaboration with students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Micro-Compact Home, Horden Cherry Lee Architects & Haack + Höpfner Architects


26 H O M E / W O R K also be jacked into place or installed by a helicopter, which has been done in more challenging or remote locations. Finally System 3; a new prototype designed specifically for the exhibition, builds upon Oscar Leo Kaufman’s seven year pursuit of low cost, high quality design. The core of the design is the habitable unit shown here. A single unit dwelling that the architects conceive as a building block for larger and more complex communities so there were infinite permutations where this becomes high rises. You just stack one on top of the other like blocks. This system is the most sustainable, technologically advanced, flexible and cost effective model to date in the architects’ output. The house consists of two spaces, one called the serving space and a naked space. The serving space is a completely prefabricated unit with the requisite functional uses of kitchen, bathroom, electricity, internet access, laundry, dish-washing, etc. and ventilation, as well as vertical circulation. If it were to be stacked, this would be the main means of circulation. The serving space is delivered as a completely composed volume while the naked space is formed of entirely planar pieces which are packed on the outside of the volume in a shipping container. It was and still is our hope that both these houses and the historical survey bring to the forefront both the suggestion and reality that a formal universe of great diversity, inventiveness and richness awaits the next generation of prefabricated houses. Not only is prefab on every one’s lips in 2010, but it is poised to make great advances in the coming years - both unleashing creative intelligence and tackling the daunting problems facing cities and settlements worldwide. Thank you.

System 3, Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf

Northeastern University

Modular Housing Regulation Matthew Littell

I came to this topic over ten years ago actually when I pursued a kind of alternative concept for a mobile home design at the Graduate School of Design. This was the late 90s when the now very current renewed interest in prefabricated technologies for housing was just ramping up again and it was both a time where this interest was both new and very old. I want to talk today a little bit about successes, in particular in relation to manufactured housing. We’ve looked at a lot of very interesting, innovative ideas that in terms of the goals they set out for themselves actually failed. But while these very interesting attempts were being made at revolutionizing the industry, the manufactured housing industry was very quietly building millions and millions of units. I’d like to take a moment and look at the other side, and perhaps a component of this is that it actually succeeded. Manufactured housing, I want to be specific, is what we used to call mobile home. They self refer to themselves now as manufactured housing, also as HUD code houses. Panelized housing is built prefabricated in pieces and perhaps assembled on site. Modular is now this sort of current term for anything that is essentially built in boxes and transported to a site. From a regulatory standpoint, it is regarded as regular construction; it is subject to all the regular local building codes, zoning codes, etc. Most of the product out there is conventional, it aspires to be conventional. Houses are delivered in prefabricated boxes that are, for the most part, finished on the interior. There’s some exterior finish pieces that are left to be done on site, but the building is primarily built off site and shipped as boxes. The inspection process is a little different in that a State official needs to go to the factory to check out plumbing, electrical, so on and so forth, but once it’s on site, it is a fairly conventional house.

Different types of mobile and manufactured housing


28 H O M E / W O R K I think prefab has become a kind of lifestyle design typology that has been popularized in the last 10 years or so, in part due to the publicity generated through Dwell. Accompanying this typology is a very strong message about a contemporary lifestyle that’s befitting of this new, free and easy sort of technology. There are any number of companies now who refer to themselves as prefab and who are trying their hand at this game. There is one interesting website that is a virtual museum of companies, some of whom are building probably more than others, but many of them have embraced at least the design ethic of their modular construction. Others have opted to use the construction techniques for delivering something inexpensively, but are otherwise looking for more traditional aesthetics. Others have gone even further to embrace the impermanence of the type. I think collectively, this idea of prefab that we’ve been talking about is probably a sort of quasi-type in and of itself. If I could position it on a matrix, I would say prefab as we know it today is still a very, very small piece of the pie. By contrast, manufactured housing occupies this enormous piece of the pie, where volume has supplanted customization but it has also drastically reduced cost, at the expense, let’s say, of design innovation. The industry has since gone into a decline a little bit, probably due in part to the saturation of the market and the availability of cheap credit in the early part of this century, which might have veered people towards other types of housing. The numbers then and to this day continue to be fairly impressive; for instance in 1985, 300,000 units were created this way. The modular housing industry really emerged from a kind of house trailer typology through what we all identify as the mobile home of the 70s. The industry, as recently as the 90s and now, is probably more sophisticated but has self-identified their product as the double-wide manufactured home of 1990. What really happened to this industry that helped it to succeed was that in 1974, because of proliferation of the type, the federal government agreed to develop a specific set of building codes for this typology

Northeastern University

itself. This was to allow manufacturers to build to some sort of standard but then ship their product across state lines and not get “gummed up” in local building codes that were different in each state. In a sense [it was also to] create an entirely different class of dwelling that would have its own building code. The piece of the puzzle that would allow one to qualify for this fairly simplified and reduced code was that the chassis, the structural element to which the wheels were attached, needed to be permanently integrated into the home. This is true today; this is the one kind of technical requirement that allows someone to operate under this code and gives it the advantage of using Section of a typical manufactured home with a the simplified code but also, the disadvantage of locating steel chassis these dwellings in places where manufactured housing is excluded by zoning. The chassis is really typically just a metal frame that’s located underneath. Typically the wheels are removed on site but this is the essence of the chassis, designed to be located on a number of piers or some sort of semicontinuous support system fairly lightly. In reality, the way it works is that, its loading for transit and its loading for onsite use are actually not that different. This facilitates the placement of these houses. The code was specifically written to encourage innovation. The specs are typically performance-based as opposed to prescriptive. While the chassis tends to be this steel cage that separates the ground floor from the ground, the code very interestingly, specifically encourages other kinds of innovative solutions. Nonetheless, the steel chassis, as it is called, has prevailed. It is the first thing that is built in the factory - there’s usually a special area for it and then it is the piece upon which the entire house is built and transported, usually sideways through the factory. Part of the intensely low cost of these products is due to the incredible efficiencies of these factories which are typically producing somewhere between 10 and 20 modules a day. The wheels are attached to the frame for shipping. This typology really has succeeded, creating its own special

Axonometric of the typical components of construction of a manufactured house


30 H O M E / W O R K class, its own special code, with its own special inspection process; they are typically deployed in locations that are specifically designed to receive them. More and more, manufactured housing companies were becoming vertically integrated, completely, to the point where they were designing the houses, building the houses, transporting the houses, selling the houses, buying the land upon which they would be placed, developing the land upon which they’d be placed, selling the houses to the customer and then financing that sale, not only the sale of the home, but then also collecting rent on the land upon which that home was placed. They have mostly proliferated in environments where the ground doesn’t freeze and where the foundation requirements are generally fairly simple.

Foundation of a manufactured home

Some of the designs, again this is from the mid 90s, have gotten a little fancier since then, but for the time this is pretty fancy where you had both indoor and outdoor spaces enclosed within the volume of a double wide. There’s a screened-in porch on the back, a kind of utility shed here, a carport - all of the pieces that aspire to make this otherwise highly transported object appear to be more rooted. This is a fairly rare project, located in Rockland, Massachusetts, about 40 minutes south of Boston. This is a retirement community that was developed specifically with manufactured housing precisely to bypass the local zoning requirements, [since it was] located in a commercial zone where residential developments were excluded. The developer determined that technically manufactured housing is considered a commercial use. They were able to use this to bypass the local zoning and also get relief from a lot of other sorts of encumbrances that come with residential development. From a regulatory standpoint, there was a game being played here. In addition to that, this site was particularly rocky and the extent to which these boxes could sit very lightly on the land also helped to develop this community.

Retirement community in Rockland, MA utilizing manufactured housing

Northeastern University

Today, they are still selling fairly basic models. You can see here a very funny photo shop obscuring of that awkward condition between the chassis and the ground which is a kind of whole loaded area where that gap has come to sort of symbolize a little bit, that sort of gap between home ownership and land rental, let’s say. There’s a kind of funny symbolic value attached to that land. There’s a whole industry that has grown up called the skirting industry which has created ways of concealing that condition, but it’s a condition that is both physical, but also sort of loaded with meaning perhaps. And other recent models have gotten quite involved, they look quite site built, and you can really get almost anything you want now, to the point where the distinction between modular and manufactured has become almost a technicality.

Section and floor plan of a typical single-wide with 3 bedrooms and all essential living spaces cost signicantly less than a typical single-family 3 bedroom home


32 H O M E / W O R K I think this industry is in decline but there are some lessons to be learned from its previous successes. If we compare manufactured housing to prefab, we get all the design pleasure and all the customization we want and it’s cheaper than anything else. A new single wide isn’t much more than this, for 35 maybe $40,000 you have 3 bedrooms, everything you really need to live. When we think about here in Boston when we do affordable housing and the benchmark for affordable housing, site built here is about 300, $340,000 a unit. It really gives one pause when there is this typology out there that is providing something for a kind of tent event.

Northeastern University

Disciplinary Roles, Public Pe r c e p t i o n s & i n d u s t r y Re g u l a t i o n s Ivan Rupnik [IR] - Moderator Pe t e r C h r i s t e n s e n [ P C ] - M o M A K a r r i e J a c o b s [ K J ] - F o u n d i n g E d i t o r- i n - C h i e f , D w e l l Matthew Littell [ML] - Principal, Utile, Inc. IR – As a number of you have already stated, prefabrication or industrialized housing delivery has been Modernist architecture’s Holy Grail. Many architects wondered why we couldn’t manufacture a house like one would a Ford, but they continued to design houses for an idealized industry, following a very avant-garde concept of design. I might contrast with the more experimental approach that a few architects and other professionals attempted, studying a process, before developing a prototype or an ideal of what industrialized building should be. Peter, you reminded us of some of this history, but also of a more specific history of MoMA’s half-century long promotion of prefab. Can you talk more about MoMA’s intentions beyond collection and curating? Was there a mission to change contemporary views on housing in the 40s? Was this mission successful? What were the goals and strategies of this recent exhibition? PC –I mean, part of the, of the responsibility that I really do not want to take on is defending the patriarchy of the 75 years of the Museum of Modern Art. I will say that I do think that the formation of the exhibition was simultaneously honoring a certain tradition of the museum, but also trying to challenge elements of its history. I think that you put your finger on it in terms of this differentiation between what you might call the avant-garde versus the experimental. I think that for us, this sort of tension could be found in this one incident of Phillip Johnson commissioning Breuer. This tension we found by looking at the sort of historical record of Phillip Johnson in 1949 commissioning the Breuer House, which was such an iconic and not particularly prefabricated project. We learn[ed] that


34 H O M E / W O R K he was walking by the Lustron house just down the block, and it was a total affront to him, so really he was trying to recuperate prefab for the avant-garde by placing Breuer in the garden. Now, we very self consciously wanted to return to that program, so we picked it up, over 50 years later, as a way to engage that history of self consciously styling the Department of Architectural Design as a center of prefabricated design and building. Placing these pavilions in the garden was a really visceral way to show that to the public. Now we caught a fair amount of flack from contemporary practitioners who didn’t understand why we were leaning in a certain direction with this certain project. We looked at each project and looked at it in terms of innovation and innovation was what we kept trying to look for. Now innovation can take any number of forms, it can take on economic issues, social issues, and/or formal issues. IR –Karrie, in your presentation you showed the Sulan Kolatan house, a kind of late 90’s blob that was quite common in architectural magazines, but not what we saw on the pages of Dwell over the last decade. Has the kind of Modernism that MoMA was pushing in the fifties, epitomized more by the Eameses, Breuer and others, finally become acceptable and desirable to a broader, if not a mass audience? KJ –I guess there was just not a huge market demand for blob houses and a magazine like Dwell is mostly focused on what exists because photographs of houses look a lot sexier than renderings. I think what happened in postWorld War II America is that there was the building boom - the suburbs were built, a tremendous amount of building took place and some very small portion of that was actually amazingly radical and experimental. There are some great modernist, post-war subdivisions that are there because there was the money and the latitude and there were some anomylist developers in the Southwest and in California, who did commercially and successfully build homes that were Modernist. It’s hard to do a modernist house well. You know one of the functions of ornament is that it hides a lot

The Sulan Kolatan house

Northeastern University

of things… Life Magazine was promoting the idea of new ways of living and after World War II and in the 50’s and in some extent the 60’s, it was very much something that was in the culture, so there is, [or] there were a significant number of production built, Modernist or modern-ish homes out there. … IR –Let me pose the same or similar question to you Karrie, to what degree was this transformation something Dwell documented or something that it generated? KJ – Dwell certainly contributed to a modernist revival. Wallpaper happened before Dwell; there was already a growing interest in Modernism. I started working on Dwell in late 1999 and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to find houses that we wanted to publish at the time, especially because I was trying really hard to find homes that were not multi-million dollar homes, houses that might be built and occupied by normal people, houses that would be accessible to more people. I think that Dwell didn’t start the modernist revival, but it certainly fed it and it certainly made it a bigger thing than it might otherwise have been. But again, it’s still, as Matthew points out, a little tiny blip. The thing that was always frustrating to me was why production home builders couldn’t be more architectural, why there was such a divide between architecture and home building, and I was always trying to figure out ways to bridge that divide. That’s where prefab came in, but one of the things I never got around to doing that I really would have liked to have done, was to have done an architectural competition that would have said, okay here is the kit of parts, here is what production home builders do, here is what KB Home builds a house out of; design a home with this kit of parts, a better home. IR – Your competition structure is very interesting, an update on the Arts and Architecture program that generated the Case Study prototypes. [It is] one that takes into account the existing manufactured housing industry that Matthew touched on in his talk. Architects


36 H O M E / W O R K have been complaining that the building trades have not industrialized or now digitized, but in fact, there is a fullyfledged industry out there, with its own logic; logic that is different from the mass customization theories, where everything is supposedly going to be drilled out of foam and cut out of plywood with laser cutters. This lack of real knowledge among many architects may have to do with the fact that much of the manufactured housing industry developed after the so-called ‘death of modernism’ around 1968, with architects focusing on a very different set of issues, only to renew their interest and biases about technology over the last decade. ML – I think that the important misconception is that somehow prefabrication would predetermine something that looked modern. As you point out, around the elusive date of the ‘death of modernism’, the HUD code was instituted. I don’t think we’ve seen anything as radical since then in terms of a broad scale gesture about housing delivery that’s implemented at a national scale. I also think that it’s very easy to overlook the many manufacturers who have been quietly doing interesting work for many years now. We need to be very clear that the aesthetic agenda that came with prefab is not necessarily related to its mode of production. The most sophisticated, zero net energy homes that are being produced now, look like any other colonial with a “K” and perform as well, if not better, than anything that looks different. In fact, there was a funny, weird synergy between the colonial type and zero net energy. KJ – The financing structure for mobile homes is different and there are some other very substandard loans that people who can’t get normal loans can get to buy a mobile home. There are parts of the country where people can’t get normal mortgages through regular banks and they can get mobile home loans. It’s one of those bad economic things that happen, because I think mobile homes don’t appreciate. ML –I think this type of loan used to be called a chattel

Northeastern University

loan, and it’s basically like a car loan. It’s not deductible the way a mortgage is and you pay sales tax, but not excise tax, or you pay excise tax but not real estate taxes, that sort of thing. KJ – So some of the success of the mobile home industry is based on this kind of not very economically helpful loan structure. ML – Exactly, and I think, and I’m probably speaking beyond my knowledge level, but I have a hunch that part of the decline of the industry had to do with the proliferation of loans to people who probably shouldn’t have gotten real home loans. KJ – Yeah, that’s the case. PC – I find it interesting though how this blossoming of the skirting industry is somehow a sort of formal allegory to this problem if you will. It’s quite interesting that there is actually a sort of formal trace of this as well. IR – I think that’s an interesting point; again it goes back to Karrie’s idea of this competition, that aesthetics are actually generated by the particular technological but also social and cultural conditions. PC – Yeah, it’s also, it’s important to think about, to creating that tension between what is acceptable and what is progressive. There is a certain point where that tension is healthy to create, to engage public interest, to engage public debate such as this, and there’s a certain point where it actually becomes unproductive and finding that sort of fine line is really tricky. Manufacturers only want to be pushed so far and architects only want so much push back. KJ – Well I guess the fact that the prefab movement is being driven by architects is kind of a problem. I mean architects are very smart and very creative, but they tend to be idealists and what a genuine manufactured housing industry, not one that Matthew was speaking about, but


38 H O M E / W O R K something a little broader and more beautiful, would require is actually a lot of regulatory change, like that HUD rule from the seventies. [However, it] is not something that could get written and passed now, I think in part because neighborhood activism and the sort of organized nimbyism. It would make it very hard to do something like that on a national level. I mean it’s hard to do something like that on a neighborhood level, let alone a national level, and there’s just so much that goes into doing prefab, to mass produce for real, so many things would have to change. It is tough, bordering on impossible. IR – Actually I wanted to maybe open it up for questions from the audience. Audience Member – I’m just wondering is there any innovative or well-designed versions of HUD code homes? ML – Generally, no. To be honest I haven’t been tracking in great detail but in my occasional trollings, I find some structures that look a little bit like prefab. You know, I’ve found a couple of butterfly roofs, but I don’t think there’s been a significant investment in that direction as a kind of strategy. Audience Member – When you say HUD code homes, you mean the ones with chassis? ML - Yes, precisely. I think if the broader regulatory environment of this country has a certain type of allergy to some of these design innovations, the HUD code home industry is probably triple-allergic to innovation. The success comes at the expense of innovation and customization and that sort of thing. I think it is theoretically possible, but the other question is whether the presence of the chassis is a kind of hindrance to actual innovation or not, whether it is something that could be capitalized on. This brings up a bigger issue, which is a lot of the spirit of prefab and particularly the home delivery channels. The spirit of those examples is: what would a house be like if I could start from scratch and reinvent the

Northeastern University

entire concept? I think that’s where the kind of MoMA spirit shined through in that show and that if we remove all encumbrances, what can we do? There’s an alternative strategy there ,which is to say that this is the way the world is and how you know, how can I capitalize on these impediments and do something, maybe incrementally.


40 H O M E / W O R K

e3co System Pe t e r We i d e r s p a h n This is a project that actually started as an undergraduate directed study, and we call it Ecological Comprehensive Component Construction System, or e3co System. With some modest funding here at Northeastern University we were able to do a couple of prototypes. It is an idea that actually started quite awhile ago. I was hired by a major land grant institution in the 1990s to design a series of log cabins. I became very interested in that as tectonic type because of the idea that you could place voids at any point within that structural enclosure system and still be assured that there would be positive structure above that. That became the initial inspiration for what we’ve been up to, trying to interpret that in a more contemporary context. We began to look at the idea of reinterpreting the long, linear, stackable system and how that could actually Typical balloon framing construction method fit together in a very consistent and systematized way. Just about when this research started, I was finishing up research on 19th Century housing in Boston and looking in particular at Sam Bass Warner’s description of how the streetcar actually was, in his terms, a kind of primary element for the expansion beyond the historic core and out into this new first ring suburban territory. I would like to think that there was a corollary technology and that was the transformation from heavy timber framing, a predominant pre-Civil War technology to balloon framing that we’ve already mentioned today. Ultimately, the early 20th century saw a migration from two-story balloon framing towards a more platform frame. [This lead to] the kind of multifamily, detached home in New England, here we have the proliferation of triple-deckers, but certainly over America we have the kind of two-story family house, whether they’re stacked or side by side. This is a direct result of this building technology. When we look at this 19th century evolution from heavy timber frame to balloon framing, and ultimately platform

Northeastern University

framing, we can see that it is a not only a tectonic system, but also an economic system. The expansion of the urban centers in America added fuel to that fire, if you will, and the sophistication required for heavy timber framing actually could be greatly reduced; you could build buildings with much less sophisticated labor, less sophisticated tools. This is a kind of phenomenon that really revolutionized construction in America. That system is very much still in place today and a majority of houses are still built with light framing technology, of course with technological advances, but essentially the components in this system are the 2 by 4s and the sheathing get delivered to the site and constructed on site. In North America, high labor costs make that a still a fairly expensive proposition and it is difficult with complete on-site construction to maintain the level of quality, which opens you up to various forms of vulnerability in terms of the performance of that system over long term. So I became interested in structural insulated panels or SIPS: two layers of wood panel on either side of expanded polystyrene core. They have excellent structural and thermal capabilities, excellent air infiltration performance and certainly reduces on-site construction time. The panels can be as large as eight feet wide and twenty-four feet long, which is the largest dimension of oriented strand board panel that you can get. There are drawbacks to SIPS, issues that we were trying to solve for in our iteration of this technology: they require heavy equipment on-site in order to lift these in to place, they are used primarily for exterior surfaces, the polystyrene is a petroleum-based material that we were trying to design around. EPS foam makes up a startlingly large proportion of our landfill and is not a material that disappears over time. It is also very difficult to integrate electrical and plumbing systems into SIPS panels. So,



Material components of e3c0 panels


42 H O M E / W O R K looking at this idea of the Ecological Comprehensive Component System, we’re trying to solve for the ecological issues by looking at different kind of foams that would inhabit the interior core and, at the same time, improve the thermal and air infiltration performance. It is comprehensive in our mind in that what is primarily an exterior envelope system can also be used for interior walls and floors. [This is] because of the cross-sectional quality of having the maximal strength of material, the two wood panels that the extreme edges of that system, and so our hypothesis is that we can build every surface and structure in the house with this system. We’ve also begun to look at ways we can integrate systems so I’ve been invited to present this from the Office of Technology Transfer here at Northeastern. Through the State of Massachusetts, there’s an agency that tries to start businesses here in Massachusetts and many of these kind of entrepreneur conferences I’ve been to are always looking at high-tech systems that are so sophisticated that they are very difficult to replicate and our system is just the opposite. It is as dumb as it possibly could be so it could be constructed very easily and with the same quality, no matter who is potentially building it. We’re trying to integrate as much of the kind of electrical chases, plumbing chases, and integrated moisture barrier

Cross sectional view of one of the lightweight e3co pnels

Northeastern University

systems. As we think about the production or construction of e3co building, it starts with the parametric model, that digital information would be fed into fabricators and that information would be embedded onto the back of a truck to the site and there would be embedded information that you would then be able to assembly this in a logical sequence. This system is really a kind of direct challenge, if you will, or alternate to what we see as the kind of wasteful and laborious wood framing system that’s still predominant today. It’s stackable and lightweight, like Lego blocks that you can flat pack and bring it to a site. With the university marketing team, which I’ll talk about in a second, we’ve come up with this moniker of being light, fast, cheap and green. The foam we’ve been talking with a group called Evocative; they’re graduates of the School of Engineering of Rensselaer, who have developed this system they call Greensulate. It is a benign fungus which grows using industrial by-product as the food and takes about a week for this fungus to grow. The result in the end is a kind of cellular structure, not unlike a piece of lumber, but just with a lot more air spaces within it, so it’s fairly lightweight, very highly fire resistant, interestingly, and animals apparently aren’t attracted to it, and it’s very water resistant as well. It has similar thermal properties as EPS foam; it has an

Construction process of e3co system


44 H O M E / W O R K R-value of 3 per inch, whereas EPS has an R value of 3.5. We’ve also looked at various alternatives; this is a wheatboard product, again a kind of agricultural by-product in order to create the panels on either side of the foam. And we’ve been talking with Zip System; this is a product that is impregnated moisture barrier system that gets impregnated right into the exterior sheathing. My marketing group has looked at a number of kind of North American markets, large-scale home builders that this system may be very attractive to in terms of reducing on-site construction time while increasing quality and thermal performance. [We’re] speaking of this as a kind of large-scale retail operation, like you buy cabinetry at Home Depot, you can go and sit down with someone and design out what you need and then a few weeks later they show up ready for installation. We’ve been looking of course at developing nations, China in particular, with a kind of simplified construction process; it’s easy to transport for remote locations and doesn’t require very sophisticated equipment or skill, actually. More recently we’ve been reminding ourselves of the need for emergency shelter systems that actually qualify for some of the reasons listed just above there for developing nations as well.

Exploded axonometric showing e3co panels used in residential construction

Northeastern University

Blu Homes Sarah Jazmine So who is Blu? Blu is a vertically integrated company with design, sales and construction as equal partners. Blu is founding itself essentially on the premise that our folding technology, which we are in the process of patenting, is going to completely break the boundaries of the prefab industry. We are trying to position ourselves between the high-tech domestic and traditional custom craft industries. We are really asking one big question, and that is can a specific kind of technology, in this case our folding technology, give us a new chance at making a home as a product that’s not an inferior product the way that trailer homes, manufactured housing have become. We want to ask the right questions; why do people perceive manufactured housing as a bad thing? Why are all the conveniences of manufactured housing stigmatized?

“we’re really starting to draw these things as m a n u f a c t u r e d products”

The pros of mobile homes that we wanted to keep when we started our business model were that they are pretty inexpensive, although, of course our price point is slightly higher, they’re quickly deployable, and the site work is very, very fast. It’s less stress for the owner. We also looked at modular construction, which is a slightly smaller industry. We hope to get rid of some of the cons of that, which are constricted by what the builders give you. Also, we were particularly obsessed with finding green materials and starting to look at embodied energy and starting to fold in materials research in a different way. Then there’s the onsite finishes that happen when you have to join multiple boxes together. Our proposition is that, instead of doing the optimization for the factory, we’re actually going to really reduce site work completely. We’re going to try to procure those ecomaterials and try to continually fold in more research about the products and about their environmental affects.

Axonometric view of the “Element” scheme


46 H O M E / W O R K So, why do we fold? You’ve already heard some of the reasons, but it’s easier and cheaper to ship. We can ship as small as 8 feet wide, which means you don’t have to pay the large shipping costs. We get bigger modules for the same shipping dimensions; higher ceilings with folding ceilings. The site work is faster because the house is actually already put together and then is taken apart and it also reduces pollution enormously when you’re shipping from coast to coast. We have higher ceilings because we can pop our roofs up with our folding technology. The top box of this design is actually just a typical module and the bottom is unfolded so we ship in two shipments, whereas it would take three to four to do the same, and we get higher ceilings. We’re using steel frames to unfold our homes; what that means is that we take advantage of the larger spans that come out

BLU (folding ceiling principle) higher pitches AND higher overall heights for same shipping height limit

TYPICAL MODULAR (fixed ceiling) shorter ceilings, lower pitches for same overall shipping height limit

1 in 12 roof pitch

bluhomes folding concept - the folding process allows for higher ceilings than a typical modular home.

shipping limit

shipping limit

shipping limit

shipping limit

4 in 12 roof pitch

Northeastern University

of that. [We’ve begun to look at] the proposition of what happens if you start to unfold multiple modules toward each other and combine, as well as a more conventional look at using modules. What’s great about Blu is that our modules are not restricted in any way by shipping limits because we unfold. We’re trying to design these perfectly engineered things; they’re almost like transformers that come to your site and sort of sit down on your site, right? But the reality is that we’re also using a lot of low cost means and re-using a lot of traditional industries that fit onto our steel frame so it’s interesting to see how that plays out. We use CATIA, which is probably the oldest and best industrial design software out there; it’s what cars and airplanes are made with. We call our method the flip-fold because the front wall actually ends up upside-down when it’s fully folded. It’s shipped upside-down, which is really strange because when you’re on the inside of a folded house you see these windows upside down. It unfolds and then this side walls fold out and then the only panelized piece is the roof. It is such that it can be craned up and placed onto the box. A 1,500 square foot home is one shipment. This is the truer of an explanation of folding because it is folded with drywall, sheathing, and siding already on. The only thing that has to be finished on-site are the fold seams. This is our latest fold scheme which is for a product line called the Balance. The two shipment set, a huge home by Blu standards ,which we’re also trying to have it be a downsizing exercise; this home is going to be our upper limit. We’re really starting to draw these things like they’re manufactured objects. These pieces and parts, we’re starting to break down piece by piece and really understand that, in order for something to be customizable and for that to not add to the cost, the customizations have to be discreet. The way that we’re approaching that is by creating a plug, like pluggable modules that go onto the folding system. Those modules end up on the fixed side when possible because that way they can be fully plumbed and

Floor plan and rendering of the “Balance” scheme - the largest of the homes available from Blu


48 H O M E / W O R K fully wired in the factory. Same thing with the bathroom and the utility core – [if you] build that all in then the unfolding spaces end up all on the folding side of the house. I saw this connection between the way that we’re thinking about plumbing and how much of our plumbing we’re trying to organize on the fixed side of the homes, and how a building really changes when you start to design around plumbing. I think that’s a really interesting problem that Reyner Banham brought up a long time ago. This of course is his illustration from A House is Not A Home, which proposed that actually what’s important about the American house in particular is the domestic equipment package. So although I don’t think that you would hear this from our marketing team or from, well you might hear it from the people in the factory, the problem I’m interested in is what happens when we design this stuff first and start to see what aesthetic systems come out of that. When I came to Blu I was told that we were optioning things and we were allowing our clients to customize. That’s become more and more discreet because it’s so hard to find a system that doesn’t require a lot of custom work. What we’ve done is try to make our customizations as discreet as possible. This is a two bedroom plan that becomes a master bedroom with a built in office or can become a master suite with a large closet, so it’s largely a functional change, but it’s a really small in terms of its affects on anything we have to design.

BEDROOM 9’-6” X 10’-0”

KITCHEN 8’-6” X 13’8” UP PATIO 20’-7” X 9’-6”

LIVING ROOM 9’-6” X 16’-0”

DINING ROOM 11’-10” X 10’-6”

BEDROOM 9’-6” X 12’-6”

BEDROOM 9’-6” X 10’-0”

KITCHEN 8’-6” X 13’8” UP PATIO 20’-7” X 9’-6”

LIVING ROOM 9’-6” X 16’-0”

DINING ROOM 11’-10” X 10’-6”

OFFICE/STUDY 9’-6” X 12’-6”

This is sort of a proposition for a context in a neighborhood, and more rural context, so then the last question is really, why are we folding and what kind of clients are we working for? What is our market? We’re shooting to kind of grab this market of people who are willing to do extensive product research online. They really want to see options before they commit, they’re sort of “commitaphobic” because they know they’re so many more options out there and they’re the type of clients that think maybe tomorrow they’re going to find somebody that they like better than you. So the more they can be on your website, Ground floor variations showing the functional changes available to customize each model and the more time they can spend in your home before BEDROOM 9’-6” X 10’-0”

KITCHEN 8’-6” X 13’8”


PATIO 20’-7” X 9’-6”

DINING ROOM 11’-10” X 10’-6”

LIVING ROOM 9’-6” X 16’-0”

OFFICE/ STUDY 9’-6” X 12’-6”

Northeastern University

they commit, the more comfortable they’ll feel when it comes time to sign the PO [purchase order]. They’re the type of people who communicate almost entirely by e-mail and web and that works really well for Blu because part of our value proposition is really that we want to provide great design, but we know that we can’t scale if we spend the amount of time that we would have to with each client to give them their perfect home. So the thing to do is to communicate in a very efficient manner with them. In fact, our sales team is the only wing that actually interfaces directly with clients which means that they come to us, they have to fill out a checklist of all the options they want and they bring that to us. There’s no inefficiency in terms of architect fighting with client, the sales people resolve all of that. The sales people know fully what the possibilities are of the plan before they come to us and that actually takes

Unfolding process for a typical home


50 H O M E / W O R K a lot of the stress out. It leads to a lot of disappointment too when you fall in love with a design and a salesperson tells a client they can change it because you are committed to it at that point, but it really has streamlined the process for us. We’ve also found that clients are responding a lot to built-in electronic and high-tech features in a way that maybe they weren’t before so we’re trying to pick up on those sorts of things too. They’re also very, very, very well informed so you just can’t market to them in the way that you used to be able to. You have to really have done all your research on all your products. We’re spec reviewing every day. Specs are such a huge part of what we’re doing right now so we have to know absolutely everything about what we’re doing. We’ve also noticed that they are ready for a sleek, pared-down and practical aesthetic. There is no one coming to Blu and asking for a traditional colonial home, but they do want to see that there’s a sense of home. We are also noticing that people are coming to us and they want more energy features than we’re even able to provide, so the market is enormously well-informed and they’re ready for this stuff. Another huge question is orientation strategies and some of the strategies that we’ve been dealing with are about trying to have optionable windows [to deal with] when it lands on the site and which way it should land. It’s actually a really complex common problem to figure out how to get the entry in the right place; how to have the views in the right place; and how to have solar orientations in the right place. Clients, they want to be able to do this. They want to know that your house will work where it lands. And so, I know this is not contextualism, but it’s an enormously effective way of delivering a home stress-free to a client. How can you argue with that?

“There is no one coming to Blu and asking for a traditional colonial home, but they do want to see that there’s a sense of home”

Northeastern University

Hometta Mark Johnson Our company has effectively developed out of a stock plan industry, an industry that is larger than you think probably 30 to 35% of housing starts. Not one is looked upon favorably by a lot of people, and none that I had a lot of familiarity with myself before we started the company. The genesis of the company or the idea came largely in part from reading a lot of Dwell. We had this realization that we were seeing a lot of great projects, small, relatively affordable, modern homes beautifully designed by young architects with pedigrees and great talent. Yet it seemed like again and again I was seeing these houses were being built for themselves, or for their brothers, or their parents. I wasn’t seeing a lot of what you would think of as sort of classic architectural patronage from a young family with a middle income finding a young architect or even an established architect, saying “Hey, design me a custom $200,000 house.” The more I looked into it and the more I started talking with [architect] friends I had worked with in Houston, it just became really clear that this is a fundamental problem. How do you make economic sense of it for the firm, or for the practice, since it takes almost as much time to design a custom little house as a it does a big house? How do you afford it? How do you scratch together that extra $20,000 to $40,000 in design and supervision fees, even for a smaller house; for a family on a tight budget, that’s just not possible. Together with these small group of architects in Houston, who themselves are very accomplished, we decided to try to bridge that gap. We started looking at the housing market and I think you can break it down into: architect driven homes, by that I mean fully-custom, fully-supervised, jewel boxes [that are only] 2 % of homes, and then you have what I would broadly categorize as builder-driven, spec homes, semi-custom homes that are made for particular markets, track homes, mass produced, big corporate track homes. What Hometta wants to do is push the architectural

The majority of the homes in the U.S. aren’t designed by architects, but by large builders using stock plans

Diagram of the make-up and relationships at Hometta


52 H O M E / W O R K quality and the innovative thinking out of the domain of this architect driven, tiny market (which honestly is for the wealthy) into a bigger market. We have four minority owners that we work with who are architects. We consider Hometta a company that has been built by architects that have banded together in a collective - it’s largely for architects. We want it to fit within architectural practice. We want it to supplement architectural practice, to enable architects to reach a market that is difficult to reach and difficult to serve on a fully-custom basis. From there, after banding together with these architects, we were able to recruit about 35 studios. All of these studios have different ideas about how to solve these problems that we’re all interested in solving - whether it’s custom architectural firms or prefab. We pretty much give them free rein to present design proposals that they think will sell, that will be sustainable, and that will have an impact on the market and how people think about architecture. They’re not, unlike most of the stock plan industry, anonymously designed nameless plans. These plans have a story, a program behind them - [that’s how] we explain it. People know who designed it, why and for what purpose. We hope that Hometta will be something that, when people find us, takes a little bit of the mystique of [having] to interview these three architects who seem so impressive and lofty. We want to remove that and make architecture approachable, accessible, maybe even more accessible than, say the Design Within Reach model, which is not that within reach. The client uses the Internet to discover these design studios and their designs. We are leveraging the different tools and sort of inter-connectivity of the Internet to bring together the building professions and clients. The advantages of prefab are real: shorter construction time, the architect can have control over both the design and the production, there are places that have short, brutal building seasons, and waste management. There are also great advantages to site built: if you live in a place like Houston where we are, [there are] really low labor

“we want to remove the mystique...and make architecture more approachable, accessible”


Northeastern University a web-based modern home design delivery service. visit

costs. [With site built]Binary the client can make decisions at any House The Binary House explores several simple dualities of time, can monitor the modern construction of their house, can get living: flexible open spaces with user-defined areas, abundant natural lighting without excessive heat gain, involved, can insert themselves into the decision-making and a strong relationship to the exterior without sacrificprocess. You can haveingglobal design but local construction. privacy. These dualities inform the basic interlocking masses of the building and the spaces within. The house’s When you hire local trades people and local to build exterior is an interplay of solid and void, codedbuilders with specific material designations. The Binary House intentionally relies your house, you’re putting your money right back into your upon common construction methods and readily available materials used in inventive ways to address the unique community. A young guy named Kyle was at our house design challenge of the Hometta project delivery method. house isbeen relatively simple to constructon. without specialfinishing a gate that heThehad working It turns out ized labor and adaptable to many geographic and climatic The teacher, Binary House is designed for a comfortable, his mother is my son’sconditions. school they’re in third grade modern lifestyle in an efficient house that is easily built and and my son worships him because he has a blow torch and uncomplicated to live within. tattoo’s. Let’s not lose sight of that these are the strands of social fabric. I’m not saying it’s like an Amish barn raising or anything, it’s not that communal, but these things do 80 ft — Entry ft — matter in the meaningLiving that houses280and construction of 205 ft — Dining houses take on as you Kitchen pull together 220 fta team from — your — 250 ft Den community to build your house. — 235 ft Master Bedroom Room

1st Floor

1_Entry 2_Living 3_Dinin 4_Kitch 5_Bedr 6_Den 7_Powd 8_Bath 9_Carp 10_Loft 11_Porc 12_Laun 13_Mech



2,480 SF 3 bedroom 2 full baths, half baths carport + office





6 Êlightwell

5 optionalÊwalls













2nd Floor





2 2 2








140 ft2

Bathroom 2

125 ft2


optional tree

We [also] try to take advantage of—all the social75media, [and] ft Office we’re still learning about that. That’s the kind of thing that all the studios who join Hometta can take advantage of. They can leverage; they don’t all have to do their own social networking; we can do it for them. Our designs vary a lot. We have given our partner studios a lot of freedom. The one thing they all have in common is they’re all less than 2500 square feet. Maybe that’s an arbitrary number, but we feel like homes are over-built. Our users can click on floor plans and see a simple graphic floor plan. If they are a member and they subscribe, they can click on view plans and that opens up a custom viewer in which they can zoom in on any part of the actual construction plan that they would be buying. They can’t print it, for obvious reasons, but you can scroll around on it and flip through the pages. Builders have free subscriptions. Clients can send them an e-mail, give their user name and your password, and ask them to look at a plan and give a bid. We want people to make informed decisions when they buy a Hometta house. The stock plan industry basically works on the principle of lowest common denominator; it has to be cheap to build, that’s the only real criteria. No one can be surprised if they buy a plan, but they can’t see the












Bedroom 1



optional tree


As you approa

strikingly dynamic with brick and wo beneath an expans multiple use space but also makes fo can be used in con

The ground floor le plan living with a st the living and dinin ideal space for fam glass protected by light will fill the spa direct sun.

The stairs to the u and lead to a large the family-oriented be a playroom, ga Hall leading to the clerestory windows light which also filte

The owner’s suite and built-in storag ficient planning and exceptional livabilit


All content © Hometta. All rights reserved.

All content © Hometta. All rights reserved.

Binary House by Collaborative Designworks one of the designs available to users at Hometta

Collaborative Des James M. Evans, A interested in orch ments, and person mon goal—the suc terest has led the that of exclusively signer, and small s range from single buildings and from cost parameters r with the belief that should happen for works’ recently co ver certification.

54 H O M E / W O R K plan, they can only see the renderings. We take a different approach; we want the buyer of the plan to research the project, to know what they’re getting into. [We want them to] really educate themselves, use our resources, and spend a lot of time talking with the builder before [they] launch into what will be the most important purchase of [their] entire life, probably. [There are also] the studio pages. You can click on those and go into the studio page where we promote the studio and their work. Studios, that’s just our generic term whether it’s an individual or a large firm of multiple people; we just call them all studios. [The studio space is] where you can read their profiles and what they’ve done, [and see]

Hometta floor plan page displaying all of the available designs by various architects

“a house is more than just granite countertops and stainless steel appliances”

Northeastern University

examples of their other design work. All of our studios have either won awards, been published, or been recognized for their work. We feel like that’s the one thing the stock plan industry has never really attempted - to really push design and design quality. We want people not only to get excited about it, but also to educate them. A house is more than just granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, there’s a lot of thought behind this and when you live in it for a long time, you will see the benefits of an architecturallydesigned home and we want for people to understand that. The site has resources; we’ve developed this construction guide which we expect our users and subscribers to read and take advantage of. You need to educate yourself and you need to assemble the right team and provide a lot of that supervision. There’s a builder search feature where you can find local builders and connect with them so you can start getting bids on your house. [It’s] actually very difficult to find builders who want to build small, modern homes; that’s been a challenge. Our designers and architects love to design everything, not just houses, [but things like] furniture and car ports so we’ve extended the whole Hometta concept into the realm of design objects. The idea is the same in principle; you buy the plan, you find a local fabricator and you have it built locally. We just think there’s a huge potential for this kind of production. Finally, [as] the next level we are launching something we call H-Town, which is a play on Hometta and we’re in Houston; Houston calls itself H-Town. It’s basically a virtual, three-dimensional world where you can take a tour of the homes. [It’s] the exact same technology as Second Life. What we really want to develop is a virtual space where the focus is not on the Avatars, or the self-expression, [instead] the focus is on the architecture. What we’ve found is that a lot of potential clients have limited imaginations and cannot understand how a house works and how you move through a house. We hope and we believe this is really going to move a lot of people closer to being able to envision how one of our houses could be right for them.


56 H O M E / W O R K

Resolution 4 Architecture J o e Ta n n e y Modernism may have had one persistent goal: to design a relatively affordable modern home that could be prefabricated or mass-produced, let’s say. We at Res 4 Arch feel that they had varying degrees of success because generally, either they tried to design the home to be massproduced and therefore had to try to find somebody to actually manufacture it, or they tried to design a system of manufacturing to develop a series of homes. Our pursuit has taken a different path. We started first by acknowledging that there have been various degrees of success. We started doing some research into the existing realm of prefabrication into this world. It was interesting this morning. We saw that under the umbrella of prefab you find three tiers: on the low end is the HUD, or the manufactured home, for which the constraints are very tight and there’s not a lot of room for architects to operate for a whole series of reasons. At the top end of the spectrum is the panelized or kit-of-parts, [the] sort of trajectory of the Sears kit home if you will. What we’ve found is that the cost of these are comparable to a sitebuilt home. We focused our research here in the middle, in the modular industry, with which we felt a kindred spirit to because of the dimensions imposed by the Department of Transportation, which are basically 16 feet wide and 11 feet high and approximately 64 feet long. [Those are] the general limits, it’s not limits by the factory, it’s limits by the Department of Transportation. As architects we felt a kindred spirit to these limits or thinking ‘inside the box.’ As a practice in Manhattan, we’ve done a lot of long, linear loft spaces so it was a natural extension of our office. We started to do a series of studies that we call “modules of use”, literally designing inside the box. Simply we have communal: kitchen, dining and living, and private: bedrooms and bathrooms. These aren’t necessarily modules to be built, but they are conceptual

“a system of d e s i g n rather than a system of fabrication”

“we’re not trying to sell a box, or this year’s model, we’re trying to develop a system that allows us to respond”

Northeastern University

building blocks, or our “bricks” in terms of thinking about developing a system. In other words, what we’ve done is developed a system of design as opposed to trying to design a system of fabrication. This is what we call “the modern modular” and in one sense it’s an idea, it’s a concept, in-house we really call it a theory. If we can design within the box, or within the brick, and actually design a home, we get a single wide. If our program requires more bedrooms and bathrooms, or offices, we get a double wide. Depending on the site conditions, approach, solar orientation and the view, we can get a “T” or an “L”. Program grows we can get a courtyard or a “U” relative to the conditions of the site we can get a “Z” or with the same program we can get a triple wide. Again as architects, what we’re trying to do is get a system designed within the limits of the modular industry that allows us as architects to respond specifically to each site, each client and each budget. With this system it gives us unlimited variations to allow us to respond. Again, as architects, we’re not trying to sell a box, or this year’s model, we’re trying to develop a system that allows us to respond. We’re trying to develop an architecture while taking advantage of existing methods of prefabrication.

Different design option developed using the “Modern Modular” to create a number of unique responses to client desires and site requirements


58 H O M E / W O R K Of course we have unlimited three-dimensional variations as well. We took those, what we call typologies, based on those seven types [we realized] that all of the homes we’ve designed could be categorized into one or multiple types. It’s not a linear or a very simple matrix, it’s much more fluid and organic in terms of how these things are defined. Those are our conceptual building blocks. We then developed them further into a series of typologies where we studied the fenestration, the massing, and the roof lines. We then tried to study how these different boxes, would come together. We then took them further and started to study materiality and the way the windows and the siding came together. We started to think about exterior spaces. We started thinking about light; we started thinking about how we can accommodate the automobile. We started to conceive of a prototypical suburban home - three bedrooms, two baths - something that could fit on a prototypical suburban lot. We started thinking about outside spaces in terms of leveraging the horizontal plane on top of the box. When the program exceeds the 16 foot limit, we started developing what we call “saddle bags.” We started thinking about how we start to articulate that with materiality. Then we got a call from Dwell Magazine that said they were going to invite 16 architects from around the world to design a home, a modern home that could be mass-produced. Fortunately, we won that competition and it basically shone a big light on the whole prefab movement in general, and especially for us. It gave us a lot of opportunities. In terms of developing our ideas and our concepts, we did it by calling up every factory, based on our research, who we felt was in the top of the top. Generally there’s about 180 to 200 factories in the country, depending on who’s counting and how they’re classified as manufactured or modular. A lot of the manufactured ones want to be modular. It’s the chassis, it’s a technological issue, but generally speaking the quality is improving greatly. Yet if you go around the country, what we’ve learned is that the highest quantity and the highest quality of these residential, modular manufacturers exist

The house designed by Resolution4Architecture for Dwell Magazine

Northeastern University

in Pennsylvania and the further south and the further west you go, they literally begin to vaporize both in quantity and quality. It has a lot to do with labor costs, the weather, population, density, the market, etc. We believe as architects if we’re really going to have an impact in this world of prefabrication, we need to understand the industry. A lot of times, for those of you who have tried to work with a modular factory, they don’t want anything to do with architects because we don’t actually take the time to try and understand the way in which they do things, because they are a factory. They buy in bulk, they buy huge quantities so therefore what they buy, sheet rock, plywood studs, everything for, they get it a higher volume, and therefore a lower cost, than any residential contractor can buy. Over the years we’ve pushed it up a little bit relative to what their conventions are and we’ve been pushing the envelope on a number of things. The key [with] whatever we introduce is that we work hand-in-hand with the factory because it is an assembly line. All the stuff comes to the site and it literally moves down the factory. So all the people stay in one position, basically, and the boxes move to them. And generally, depending on which factory, there might be 13 to 15 stations, and generally they spit out about a box a day, generally 200 to 400 houses a year. Generally speaking, we’ve been pretty successful about working within the limits so we don’t hold up the assembly line. What happens [is] they’re spitting out these houses that they do all the time, and we plug in ours that are unique. The idea is that we’ve, again designed within the limits, so we don’t hold up the assembly line because then our costs start to go up. For example, this is one of our houses going down the line and you see the big skylight in the middle. When we first proposed this they were like “how do we do that?” After awhile, when you develop a relationship and a dialog with them you explain that it’s just like a big stair opening and it’s a piece of cake. It’s learning the language that has a lot to do with the efficiency of implementation.

One of the Res4 modules moving along the assemby line in the factory


60 H O M E / W O R K They build the walls horizontally. The sheet rock is laid down. They glue them, the same way they do the ceilings. They build all the stud walls horizontally, the same way they build framing on site. They build it horizontally and actually tilt it up into position. It basically comes together like a house of cards, you can see one of these large panels being put into place, set on top of the deck. Each factory is a little bit different in terms of how these things move down. It might seem like a minor detail, but what we’ve learned over the years, depending if the boxes move horizontally, or vertically, or on tracks, or on wheels, there’s different opportunities to push and pull what can be done in the factory. Some of our spans are quite long and so we have to introduce moment frames into the process. Many times now we’re designing the steel out of the box, out of the houses and we’re using an off-the-shelf sheer wall. Simpson just came up with a new sheer wall, some of you might be familiar with it. It’s literally an off-the-shelf structural product. Predominantly though we try to design so that it’s all wood; this is the way they build, so that’s the conventional way they build. What we’ve learned is if we stay with convention, we have a higher level of predictability. The higher the level of predictability means that you understand what things are going to cost. In this particular factory there are little air pads, they pump them up, it floats on air, and then they move it. The other factories are either on wheels or they’re on little tracks like a train. The floor has to be very smooth and very clean. For plumbing, electrical, HVAC, we use a high-velocity system so that it can get woven into our open web joists. For insulation, we have developed a system with the factory, we call it a flash-and-bat system. Most of you probably know that spray foam is a much better insulative cavity than bat insulation, just for the infiltration. [However,] it takes a lot of time to spray it in the factory and to shave it off causes a lot of mess and slows up the assembly line. We’ve developed now where they go through one layer of one to two inches [of] foam for the infiltration and then we

Walls being framed in the modular factory

Stair trusses produced in the factory to be used to contruct the modules

Northeastern University

use the bat. What we’ve learned is we don’t slow up the assembly line at all, we get a higher rate performing wall for pennies in terms of cost. There are minor developments like that which we continue to do over time to increase the performance. The roofs are EPDM rubber membranes; we actually get them done in the factory. Typically it’s something that only commercial modular manufacturers do but we’ve developed a system with them now so that we can do it. Typically our roofs are flat; sometimes we’ll do slopes and sometimes we’ll do butterflies. These houses are built from the inside out, that’s why we’re able to do the flash-and-bat system. Typically the studs go on [then] the sheathing goes in so you can’t spray an inch and then the bat. The dew point will be in the wrong place and the walls will rot out. We’re able to do it because of the methodology of how they build these things in the factory. We do a lot of coordination well in advance. We review the boxes when they’re online and we also do a punch list of the boxes before they leave. Then they’re put on a trailer and shipped to the site. In addition to doing just modular, as I showed you before, we developed a way to do saddle bags out of panels. So the factory will also make the panels to our specifications and ship those. We also now have done a number of homes from Maine to Hawaii actually out of both open 2 x 4 panels, which is like a kit-of-parts, and the SIPS panels. We’ve built a number of homes and in addition we’ve done prefabrication foundation walls as well. Panelized houses are assembled like a house of cards, and so, the plumbing, the electrical, the HVAC, the roofing, the cabinets, everything else still has to get done on site. What we’ve learned is the more we do off site the higher value of the proposition we get. The good thing about a panelized delivery system is that you have much less limits, but therefore the costs go up - no limits, higher cost. You can see the kit here with the stairs, and various components for the house. But, our research and the majority of the

Construction of a panelized system which is delivered to the site as a kit of parts


62 H O M E / W O R K homes that we’ve built are using a modular delivery system. The boxes, like big Lego’s, are put on the back of trucks and shipped to the site. I’d say, on average it might add $5.00 a square foot to the cost of the home, delivery, taxes, the troopers, the whole. Most of them are cheaper than that, but on average when clients ask us, that’s what we ballpark. So, a 1,000 square foot box might be $5,000 to ship it; a 2,000 square foot house, it might be $10,000. In the scheme of things, it’s money very well spent for the exact same thing site built. The boxes get to the site and a large crane and an experienced set crew sets the house on a foundation, which is typically a basement or a crawl space. The process takes about four phases of four months. The first phase is when pretty much you design documentation. Second phase we spend a lot of time with the factory doing coordination and engineering and [getting] the State modular approvals. At the same time, we’re doing a set of construction documents to go out to bid for the site, such as flashing details, foundation, decks, etc. At the end of the second phase, we have all of our approvals, our local GC on line and it starts the third phase which is the fabrication. The houses that you saw take about one to two weeks to actually build, but it takes about 8 to 10 weeks to procure the windows, the cabinets, the plumbing fixtures, the lights, and all those elements that we use. We navigate the slope of the land, often with the foundation, right. If it starts to slope out sometimes we get the walkout basements or sometimes we just get light into the basement. The idea is to cover up the transition between the box and landscape. These are real houses, [they] have to adhere to all the local codes and sit on real foundations or on piers. The set typically is from 7 am to 7 pm. Usually a set is just one or two days because of weather, but generally the house is buttoned up and watertight in about 12 hours time. After that day is the fourth phase where the local GC takes over the house. Our time on site now consists of working through whatever issues in terms of siding and a variety of things This takes about

Large crane setting the modules on site, High Peak Meadow House

Northeastern University

6 weeks, but we tell our clients to emotionally budget for four months. A lot of our houses are sided with cedar. We found that in very rural locations most residential GC’s know how to put it up without too much of a problem. The private box most often is wrapped as a volume of wood, while the communal box is often clad in cement panels and glass. We too, employ the technique of car for entry, like we saw earlier this morning in the HUD homes. Sometimes we use cedar shake; we often use 2 x 2s and put together awnings that conceal the screened porch. Most often we leverage the horizontal space for roof decks. Sometimes that becomes a threshold to not only enter the house, but also to view the landscape. Sometimes the entire house is out of symbonit, something we did on a house for a very, very old woman who wanted zero maintenance. As we all know there’s no such thing as zero maintenance on anything, but this was as maintenance-free as possible, in terms of the cement panel and this recycled composite of plastic grocery bags, as you can see in this rain screen. For a house on a mountain in Vermont, we used a corrugated corten steel. On another one [was] completely off the grid using solar energy; the “L” configuration allowed for a bluestone terrace and this cement panel volume to absorb the south and the west sun. They are able to enjoy the radiant heat that comes off of this terrace and the cool summer evenings. These houses both used an active and a passive solar approach. Generally, the “L” configuration, especially the communal space, attempts to be a glass box that sticks its nose out into the landscape against a wooden volume. The idea of that communal space is to start to blur the line between inside and outside, so we are, literally. The intention is this glass box sitting in the landscape. On the interior we have a series of standard details for the windows, and for the flooring. These are all stock windows, off the shelf, that we compose in various configurations.

Large openings delineate the communal space from the main portion of the house, House on Sunset Ridge

Interior view of the communal space and its connection to the surrounding landscape, House on Sunset Ridge


64 H O M E / W O R K Our communal spaces are composed of the living, the dining and the kitchen as one long linear loft space. We have a zone for food preparation, a zone for food consumption, and a zone for food digestion, but always the kitchen is the command center, the plan generator, the sort of focal point of twenty-first-century domestic space. The island is a life table, we consider it; not only do you cook and serve and eat pizza and Chinese food, but [you can] also sit. It’s communal, and it’s a very strong focal point in all of our domestic spaces. Interior view of the kitchen, Cape House

We often try to get connection to the exterior so we’re not limited by the Department of Transportation. We use that parameter as a brick, or as an element, as a conceptual building block to design the houses specifically for the clients and the sites. Fireplaces are our focal point. The spaces are about people, conversation, light, and a place to nurture the soul. Living in New York City, corners are really important to us and whenever we get them we always try to at least turn the corner with light. Most often we try to take advantage of all three sides in terms of the light. We leverage the factory for what they do best, and what they don’t do best we do on-site. The interior doors, I’d say in 99.9% of our projects, we use this translucent glass door. It’s a true style door – they ship nationally – we can get any size we want. We have a standard door, standard hardware, standard interior door frame; the cabinets in the bathroom are pretty standard. We change the faucets that we use: Koehler, Catherine sink, purist on this side, stillness on the side, slate floors, stacked subway tile. Most often we use the same sort of cabinets: here’s Baltic birch and plastic laminate subway tile. As opposed to slate floor we use the Dell tile, you can actually go online and the client can design their own matrix in terms of how much color. We have a series of standard plumbing fixtures, cabinetry, hardware – all of these things – so when we stay on-system, we have a much higher level of predictability ,relative to [when] the client says “look I’ve got $400,000 to build a house, what can you do?” In a series of hours, we can pretty much dial in exactly what type and how big their house [can

Interior view of the living room, Swingline

Interior view of communal space, Mountain Retreat

Northeastern University

be]. We’re all in the realm of reality in terms of being able to design a house for a client that’s actually going to get built and meet their needs. Blurring this distinction again between inside and outside is very important to us so just about all of our spaces attempt to leverage that connection, either with physical decks, or below boxes on the outside of the communal space, or decks on top of the communal space forming outdoor rooms and green roofs. As often as we can, we try to leverage the very top plane as well for a complete roof deck on top of the house. We also occupy under the boxes as well as on top of the boxes to create outdoor living spaces. We have standard details, not only for the interior, but also simple things such as the deck railing and the concealed fastened decking. [For] interior stairs - some are solid, some have open risers. Carports, pool houses, the trellises that you see are done on-site; that level of craftsmanship the factory is not able to pull off. Again, we design and put together a set of documents so the factory knows what they’re doing and the on-site GC’s know what they’re doing. One note, all of our houses are designed to meet LEED standards. More importantly than that, our most current preoccupation are little mini power plants. We’ve done a number of houses with solar energy. We’ve done a number of houses with geo-thermal, and we’ve recently completed three homes in a co-generational system of both geo-thermal and solar so that they leverage each other. We are now literally producing homes that produce more energy than they consume. As architects, we are not trying to design this year’s model, we don’t sell boxes, as architects we’re testing our theory of the Modern Modular; that we could actually create a methodology of design that leverages existing methods of prefabrication so we can build tomorrow what we’re designing today and be able to respond specifically to each client, each site and each budget. Thank you.

Roof deck occupying the top of one of the “boxes,” Cape House


66 H O M E / W O R K

Housing Delivery: Case Studies Ivan Rupnik [IR] - Moderator Pe t e r We i d e r s p a h n [ P W ] - A s s o c i a t e P r o f e s s o r, N o r t h e a s t e r n U n i v e r s i t y J o e Ta n n e y [ J T ] - P r i n c i p a l , R e s o l u t i o n 4 A r c h i t e c t u r e M a r k J o h n s o n [ M J ] - F o u n d e r, H o m e t t a Sarah Jazmine [SJ] - Designer/Energy Specialist, Blu Homes IR –I really appreciate that the presentations of the case studies demonstrate ambitious housing delivery systems with very different approaches. One could argue that there are either contradictions or conflicts to the approaches, so I would actually encourage the panelists to respond to the issues that [arise in] some of the other presentations to their own system. PW - I think one thing [is] the range of examples here [and] a stark difference in the modular version versus the panelized versions. I think Joe Tanney makes a really compelling argument, certainly through very deep experience of this kind of economic middle ground. As we’ve been moving forward on our panel system and coordinating with engineers from other disciplines, [we’ve been] thinking about how we can move it beyond just the replacement of this structural and thermal frame and in the same kind of component way, attach interior and exterior enclosure systems that would be expedient and compactable at the same time. JT –We did a lot of research into systems that exist, systems that have been tried, and so our conclusion was as opposed to trying to, again, invent a system because we’re architects. We wanted to learn what was existing and try to work within it. It has a lot to do, again, with predictability and with the efficiency of implementation because those of us that have built anything, or have tried to build, you understand a lot of the reasons aren’t necessarily because of good ideas. We’ve got so many good ideas in the world in terms of what to design and build, it’s often because we really don’t understand how much it costs, or what it

Northeastern University

really takes to get it done and so there have been a lot of missed opportunities. So what we try to do is take a different tactic and look into what exists and we leverage what exists. It’s a theory on our part; it’s a strategy that we’re testing each and every day, and at what point is it not another failure, I don’t know. IR – It’s interesting because, if you think about the popular image of the architect, it’s the client walking into the office asking for a design, a napkin sketch. You have a system which is really designed as a response to that particular professional scenario, as much as it is a reaction to any manufacturing logic. In that way I also see a parallel with Hometta’s approach. MJ – Well I think we’re maybe attacking it from different directions. I mean the designs we have, we have systems as well. Brett Saymore’s house, his designs are out of potential panelized system; he’s worked out relationships with manufacturers, and he can build you wall panels and truss systems. IR – But the client enters your system at a different point then Joe’s. [They are] choosing between various prototypes in Hometta, while he is entering parameters into a single system with the Res 4 model, wouldn’t you agree? MJ – Yes, I mean, many of our prototypes have been built and refined, but not to the same extent. One way of coming at it is to build a better mousetrap by building the ultimate system, then it can be customized and many people will embrace it. I think Hometta’s coming at it through the conviction that we need to grow the market for this kind of service and product. Our approach reflects that, in our case, it’s more about the interface and how customers find you, how they relate to you. So for us, the example you gave of the client coming into an office and talking with you about your Modern Modular, that pool of potential clients is so small right now. There are millions and millions of people who don’t even know what a prefabricated house is; all they know is there’s a KB Homes


68 H O M E / W O R K show, model home village down the street and that’s my option. We’re very interested in growing the market and letting the different sort of solutions find space, find a place in that market, if that makes sense. IR – So in a sense Joe has become familiar with various manufacturing processes used by the major builders, while you have studied and adapted the customer interface used by the same builders. I was going to ask with Sarah about the Bluhomes approach. Matthew has touched on this a little bit, but in a way it seems like Blu’s innovation is not simply the idea of folding. It really is just taking the chassis of the mobile home and expanding it into a kind of framework both in terms of shipping, but also in terms of now being able to add, different products from different manufacturers. SJ – Right. It also provides a way to respond to client requests because there are so many constraints that are built into that. I think that it sets up a system that make the number of options discreet which, basically make relating to clients much easier, because they are able to choose between options instead of asking for anything. [It] instantly changes it from fully custom to optionable, and I think that’s really good. I think that Blu is at a certain turning point in our strategies with clients because we worked before with other factories and now that we have our factory, we’re doing our own stuff and all of our houses are folding. We’re starting to want to be less responsive to clients and our demand so far exceeds our production capacities currently that, that’s not really a problem. I think once we scale up, it’s going to be a bigger question about how responsive we actually are to clients. The system has it’s constraints and we need to know ourselves and know that system is what we are really responsible for. Then as long as we make those options really clear, it’s amazing how people really are in an option-choosing mode for the most part. I think it works for now, but we’re not completely solidified in our identity yet.

Northeastern University

IR –Does anyone see an aspect of an approach from one of the other systems that seems particularly useful to their own system? JT –In many ways we’re all more similar than dissimilar. IR – Or more compatible than similar, I would say. JT – Yes, yes more compatible, more like this {enjoins fingers} and you know Mark, you talk about the architects role. Less than 4% of domestic spaces in America have been touched by the architect’s hand. I mean how many architects are in the room, or student architects, and how many of us live in an architect designed spaced. [LAUGHTER] Not many. So I completely agree with you and I think in the big, big picture, it’s important for architects to get into that space and there’s a lot of room and I think there’s a variety of ways to do it. I think we all share the blame for the current state of the profession. I would hate to use the word ‘dumbing down’, but we need to at least become more utilitarian in our understanding and our response to domesticity; it doesn’t mean it’s not architecture. There’s a whole series of ways we can do that: from the product itself being greener, cleaner, meaner, cheaper and lighter, to a system that’s much more efficient in terms of how it happens, to how clients and architects and builders communicate. I think all of us here at the table are exploring these issues. So I think there’s been a paradigm shift, personally, professionally, architecturally, I believe it hasn’t even started yet. I believe that prefabrication has again become relevant, although I also have a long list of reasons why it hasn’t happened. I don’t necessarily agree that the codes in the local legislation, or the aesthetic responses to that, are the problem; our experience has been just the opposite. I think it’s more about architects stepping up and becoming much more hands on and I think the shift has been happening. IR – Joe, its impressive to hear you say that it’s just the beginning, particularly in terms of your own work. When one looks at the last decade of the Modern Modular


70 H O M E / W O R K project, one is really struck with the evolution of the overall system with each individual project. It’s not really building for building’s sake, it’s building for knowledge’s sake. It’s an invaluable process as intellectual research, not just in providing the client their needs in a way. This rare example of real design research also seems to be something that ties these four case studies together. JT – You learn by making lots of mistakes. PW –I think we’re also at a very interesting moment. I was surprised to hear Karrie Jacobs say that the last decade was the prefab decade because I also think that there’s a lot in place actually that will make prefabrication a much more viable approach moving forward. I think that with the economic decline, there is a pause in the world of architecture and construction in general. As we begin to emerge out of this, I think people will be looking for more stringent performative criteria, whether it’s energy performance, in particular, ideas of what we’re making buildings out of, or a kind of economic performance. I think that, at least based on my understanding of is systemic nature, prefabrication could potentially lend itself very well to matching these new criteria. MJ – Yeah, I think Joe what you were saying about working on the same system for ten years can happen with a pure design delivery system. What I hope will happen with Hometta is that after a plan has been built enough times you will have improvements, a kind of House 4.0. IR – I don’t see why that couldn’t happen but I do think that there is a key difference between hoping that it happens and designing in a feedback component into your system, ensuring that problems faced in the field generate specific solutions, but also help the overall system become better. That involves planning [and] a certain kind of design practice of which architects certainly capable of but rarely have the interest and the opportunity to pursue and refine. AUDIENCE MEMBER - When we do start to talk about

Northeastern University

economics, one thing that is really interesting, is a more scalable future for the building business. Architect and designer relationships are inevitable, but I would say that some problems have already been solved. I would say Joe is solving part of this very real problem. It’s not solving the Holy Grail yet, which is to give every person in the world a groovy house. But it’s solving the problem of the younger, upwardly mobile person who wants a million dollar house for $400,000. That’s actually a huge thing. You’re providing them that which used to be available only as a custom design thing in a much more affordable package. AUDIENCE MEMBER – Why do you think that prefab hasn’t gone into land development at the largest scale? JT –The modular industry is trying to pretend they’re Toll Brothers and what they do is bottom feed. Toll Brothers sells homes to people. The modular industry sells homes to builders who build five to twenty homes a year. They might do a development of forty to sixty homes when things were nuts but generally not. If they can sell ten to twenty homes to that builder, they are happy. The factory never talks to the end user; they just work with the builders. The builders know what they get, the expectations are what they are. It’s really an industry that’s not necessarily trying to improve, generally speaking of course, some of them are. What they’re doing when I say bottom feeding, is they’re trying to make their product cheaper than the other modular manufacturer and the modular manufacturer is trying to make the product cheaper than the Toll Brother house. MJ – I’m always impressed how you guys get the capital to the plant. If then you could get into the property side on top of that, I mean, that would be … IR – … the real Holy Grail. JT – Well again, we don’t get the capital and the plant, we use the factory like a large subcontractor and find a local builder, like the guy who builds the fence, we did the same


72 H O M E / W O R K thing. We source all over the country and we find, we call them fulfillment partners, so we find the right manufacturer in the right location, who can do the right thing for what we’re trying to achieve. We do a lot, we talk about researching the specs; we do the same thing, constantly sourcing fulfillment partners. IR – Sarah, Blu actually bought and modified their own factory six or seven months ago - what led to you to do that? SJ – Yes, I think that once it was clear we were going to move in the direction of the folding technology as our primary focus, we knew we wanted to be able to control it. The best way for us to control costs, as opposed to doing things in a traditional way, was to actually do them over and over, and interact directly with our operations branch. So a lot of what happens in my day-to-day is that I find two or three example specs of something I want to do and then I interact with operations. We price it, and then we build it, we find out how much it costs to do and we’re still at that point where we’re surprised by costs a lot. That is okay because you have to plan for losses when you’re a startup and that’s what we’re doing. When we start to really worry about becoming profitable, which is happening at the end of this year or the beginning of next year, we’re going to have to control that a lot better and the way that we wanted to control it is by controlling the factory. This comparison between what Hometta is doing and what we’re doing, which is to take this sort of savvy customer, who’s willing to network, who’s willing to research and address them in two different ways. We try to relieve them of as much stress as possible by presenting them with a fully researched package and giving them that and then hoping that’s what they choose among all their other options. And actually I think that you’re looking at it the other way. You’re not so much trying to relieve their stress, but you’re trying to provide them with as much information and as much sort of access to options as possible, and I wonder which of those methods works best for the typical American home buyer. I’m wondering why you guys still have so much

Northeastern University

faith in the do-it-yourself sort of home buyer who’s willing to do the research, willing to find the GC, willing to cost everything themselves, willing to build everything through the GC themselves. MJ –I don’t think this is solved by simply saying, ‘okay here’s a great system now pick your options.’ The bigger problem is general; it’s not about options, options are not what make you happy when you build a home. It’s not, ‘I think chrome faucets and the nickel faucet.’ What it is, it’s understanding this is a big purchase, this is a big financial commitment, it requires a lot of planning and you should be doing it for the right reasons. I think for all of us to really expand the market, we have to convince people that you should want our house, not because we provide awesome options, or because we make a very friendly sales call, but because it really is a better house. AUDIENCE MEMBER – A question for Mark, you have a lot of different house plans on your website, how long are they allowed to stay there if no one ever buys one? MJ - We want to incubate a design in a way. Just because a house isn’t selling a lot of plans, doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t have value to the site. It may be attracting a lot of visitors who then are really interested in it, but move on to another house in the collection. The nice thing about a website is the real estate is virtual, it doesn’t cost money. AUDIENCE MEMBER – At what point are there too many choices? JT – We always say that your options are limited only by your budget and it’s amazing how quickly we can understand how big and how complex a project will be. We have a series of strategies we’ve put in place to contain costs and if the client is comfortable with exceeding that fine - if not, we find out before we give them a proposal. It’s a process in itself. AUDIENCE MEMBER – How do each of you consider the


74 H O M E / W O R K designs that your proposing relative to the markets you’re serving? What are your targets economically speaking? JT –On average our houses cost $250 a foot. Coming out of the factory it’s about $125 on average. With more builtins and with certain structural issues we have to deal with regarding transportation, [it] might go up to $140. $150/ foot is I think the most expensive we’ve had coming out of the factory including delivery costs. We charge 15 percent of the construction costs for architectural services. We follow the project from the first email all the way through punch lists and photographs. That’s only half the cost because there are the on-site costs so we use the factory as a big subcontractor. We go out to bid to find the local GC and use local people for all the site work: to dig a hole, put in the foundation, put in the utilities, the box is set and they wrap it up. On average, that’s about $125 a foot although in North Carolina it’s a lot cheaper than it is in the Catskills. It’s much cheaper in the Hamptons than it is the Catskills, and it’s much more expensive on Martha’s Vineyard than it is the Hamptons. Over time, we’ve learned sort of a range - is it $225 a foot or is it $275 a foot? It’s the on-site costs that vary because of the local guys and the local labor costs and the complexity varies. So it’s the complexity of the design, it’s the location, it’s the market, and it’s also the GC. SJ – We’re trying to get to around $100 a square foot and we’re not there yet, but we think that we can do it within a year.

Northeastern University

Delivering Futures: Sustainability + Regional Planning George Thrush [GT] - Moderator P e t e r R o t h [ P R ] - MIT, Boston Preservation Alliance David Wax [DW] - Principal, Free Green K i e l M o e [ K M ] - A s s i s t a n t P r o f e s s o r, N o r t h e a s t e r n U n i v e r s i t y I v a n R u p n i c k [ I R ] - A s s i s t a n t P r o f e s s o r, N o r t h e a s t e r n U n i v e r s i t y GT - The one common element to a lot of the discussion thus far has been the reference on every panel to prefabricated housing being this Holy Grail of modern architecture. In fact, it seems, because of the variety of problems that different panelists have been trying to solve, it’s better to talk about the Holy Grail actually being the utopian aspect of modernism. In the last panel, we had people solving very discreet problems, completely distinct from one another. The aspect that we haven’t touched on very much yet, and one that, I think we need to talk about is that of aggregation or of community, or the sort of prefabricated housing that Ivan showed us at the beginning that were part of a broader social strategy. I think most of the examples we’ve been looking at today have not been that; they’ve been an attempt to engage the American market for individual homes. With that said, I just thought especially because we want to be addressing some of the financial and development issues of why there aren’t more communities of prefabricated buildings already or of those that you know, why they work or don’t work and I open this up to people on this panel or the previous panel. PR – I’ll start by saying I’m not sure that there’s necessarily an inherent benefit to concentrating on manufactured product because we all like variety in life. Joe was talking about the idea of buying land and delivering a lot of their product in one location. I actually think these programs that allow either home builders to do a small project or individual consumers to buy houses would result in a better suburban landscape than having you know 50, 100, 200 of these very similar looking houses, especially if the kinds of systems we’re seeing, the kinds we saw this afternoon were


76 H O M E / W O R K

employed. GT –In a very mature environment like the Boston metro area, things are more in-filled because most of the stuff has already been developed, but where large numbers of homes are being developed, housing is 100 to 200 units at a time. PR - Well I think that’s one of the objections that most people have to the traditional suburban landscape; you enter communities that are very similar, very homogenous like gated communities where you can barely figure out which house is yours. I think, while the aggregation might be a way of delivering houses at a lower cost, because we’re doing them all at the same time, it may not result in a better landscape than if we could come up with different systems of approaching it. GT –We’re talking about solving two very different problems then. One is economic; one is what is the proper mix in the potpourri problem. One of the things that can come from this conference is we can help sharpen, or at least distinguish clearly, branches of the conversation about prefabricated housing. We haven’t talked explicitly enough yet today about something that Joe Tanney talked about at the end of the last panel, which is yes, our projects actually can be built for significantly less. I joked earlier that the secret to your success is that I can get a million dollar home for $400,000. I don’t know if it’s really that good, maybe I can get a $750,000 home for $400,000 but the point is, if there is a reproducible economic benefit on that order of magnitude than that is the answer to a development question and especially questions of environmental performance and so forth. If you’re getting something that performs better, more predictably in environmental terms, that can be built significantly more cheaply, does it make sense for us to be exploring the idea

Northeastern University

of how these things get urbanized? DW - For me, there’s been two separate paths that have occurred and whether or not they come together we’ll see. Bob Toll and the businessmen who run Bay Home Builders, who build sixty percent of the homes in this country, [they] buy land, subdivide it and build the home for as cheap as humanly possible [and] that the customer will like and will pass code. They’re trying to sell the land to make money right? That’s a business that probably won’t go away. Land is a great business; putting homes on the land and selling that land is also a good business. The architecture community had a problem with that and so they went down a different track of ‘we can out design them, we can use our design skills to solve that problem’, which is the prefabricated movement. What never happened, and this is partially a business school problem, partially an architecture school problem, is those two guys never got together, right? So the reality is that the architects have created a better mousetrap, but there are guys up here today, especially Blu, who I know quite well as a company - unbelievable, crazy stuff from a delivery design and manufacturing standpoint. At the end of the day, they need to find a land partner who is the best land subdivide in the world and when those two things meet, that’s when you’re going to see a fundamental change because they can save Toll Brothers costs. He just doesn’t know it because he has this panelized factory and he’s got six of them across the country and he knows how to use them and he doesn’t want to change. If they were able to present to him that we’ve got a better mousetrap and you mix those two, then you’ve got a win. That’s my view. IR –Toll Brothers, like Wal-Mart for example, has a regional planning strategy for dealing with their different systems, distribution and consumption. I guess the question is that, right now, six factories provide enough products, that allows for certain kind of logic and you can still buy greenfield developments. As the shipping cost becomes an issue and as the availability of those kinds of greenfield parcels that make industrialized building possible, there will be more opportunity to think of these two tracks, land


78 H O M E / W O R K development and manufacturing logics, as a single issue. There is a magic number of acreage to make industrialized building or efficient building happen and if you don’t have it, it automatically goes away. This is like the magic number that was discussed when oil prices began to increase drastically and everyone was wondering when public transportation might again become a serious topic of discussion and change in the United States. KM – One thing I’ll say about that is at least these systems as were discussed today would be profoundly cynical systems to use in an urban situation. If you’re interested in sustainability you would engage a whole different set of tectonics, a whole set of different material systems, probably not prefab. Some of it would definitely be prefab and some of it would be very high turnover, but a lot of it would become much more low-tech and much more durable because in the end, all of these material goods have to be amortized over several generations for it to ever become sustainable. Everything that was discussed today is a two- or three-generation kind of endeavor. When you’re trying to push it back into the city, I think there’s a whole different set of material problems and delivery problems. GT – One of the things that really animated the interest, on my part anyway, for this conference were conversations with some Mayors of these small, post-industrial cities in New England. [It] suggested to me a possibility that I really am anxious to get feedback on, and that is the synergy or the potential for almost a miniature regional industrial policy that lies in taking advantage of vacant or underutilized industrial capacity in Lewiston, Maine or Portland, Maine or someplace like this and the need for affordable housing in those kind of places and the idea that rather than taking the kind of traditional. If we scale that back just a little bit and say we’re going to try and do it for Northern New England, that might actually be a big enough market and customers. Joe has shown us that he can provide us $750,000 homes for $400,000. Of course, the real question is can you provide $340,000 homes for

Northeastern University

$80,000 and we don’t know the answer to that. KM - In those examples of small New England towns, postindustrial towns, I think the architect’s role is much different than what we saw evidenced today. It becomes much more of an enabler in the way that Hometta or Free Green is and the architect’s role would be to figure out the kind of right foundation system that connects to the city’s infrastructure in the right way, provides client to the building department of that town that are already pre-approved. It would be less architectural in terms of this and much more a question of how is it going to get done and what is the efficacy of that process. I think it shifts with what we think of design considerably. But I think that’s what would have to happen in those towns. DW –There are two trends I want to talk about and it seems like you’re getting there. The first is regionalism which is what you just discussed. If you look at home-building or home solutions, it’s always regional. You think it’s national because you look at these big companies and they’re public and they’re publicly traded, but if you look at their operations, they’re run regionally. The second thing that hopefully will come out of this is this merger between the architecture schools, which is where all the IP (?) is coming from, and the broader community. They can’t be ivory towers because they have amazing IP and if they don’t share it with the engineers and the business people it will never get implemented. If you focus regionally, but you expand your scope to other areas of interest and bring them into the project, I think a university like yours could start to deliver real solutions for the community around you, which would be wonderful to see. GT – I want to hear more from the developer perspective. It seems to me, on the one hand you can imagine wanting to talk to Hometta or Blu about a new industrial process, but it’s another to talk about the real estate development community. The real estate development community makes better mousetraps in a slightly different way and I would think that the promise of significantly lower construction


80 H O M E / W O R K costs for every bit as good, if not better, product would be encouraging to the real estate development community. PR – Absolutely, but they’re driven a little differently, more mass market appeal, less for the selective, better educated clientele that appreciate an architect-designed building and the ability and willingness to pay for it. They’re driven much more by that big piece of the pie where big investment and big capital is going to have a much more likely probability of generating return. This is a multi-varied problem that occurs in many levels of the socio-economic scale and the folks we saw this afternoon were addressing one level of the scale. I think to really start making any kind of impact you’ve got to start looking at additional density, and certainly if your intent is to make it sustainable you’ve got to look at additional density. You’ve got to begin to scale up and learn how to address sustainability and affordability. Even here in the city of Boston, they’ve been doing modular two- and three-family infills for the past six or seven years. There are some pretty good systems that, believe it or not, are plunked around in the neighborhoods. They’re still costing upwards of $300,000 a unit, which is outrageous still, but that’s where we are. I think where modularity and production, industrial production systems can really make a difference is getting into the multi-family scale development and figuring out how we can, through a kit-of-parts system or plug-in system as we envisioned back in the 60’s, could really come to fruition at scales that are going to make a meaningful difference from a sustainability and urban infrastructure point of view. That’s how we’re going to save the planet, [by] convincing people to live well [and] making use of the infrastructure we already have, it’s just not being well used. KM – I think that’s one of the big transformations as a profession, our own identity of going from buildings to much more of an infrastructural endeavor, that our housing stock, our building fabric is infrastructure. Talk all you want about personalization, you want it red, I want it blue, fine, but the basic needs: air, light, a place to sleep and do other things that you do in a house, are pretty universal. If

Northeastern University

we took that other tactic and said we’re going to be much more intelligent about the systems, the infrastructure that supports this stuff and other aspects that have a high turnover that are very customizable because they’re cheap and you can paint them blue and red. You can imagine a whole urbanism that’s very different based on larger scale projects rather than individual infills. GT – As Peter studied very closely, in the latter half of the 19th-century, the development of unbelievably reproducible, clear building types that made sense economically and density-wise. [We’re] talking about twofamilies and triple-deckers; they solve this multi-variable problem extremely well. I don’t mean to say we don’t have models that solve some of those problems today, of course we do. I mean the housing that gets built, even in suburban Houston, you may not like it, but it does work, at least it did until a couple of years ago, in an economic system. Architects and designers are going to have to be involved in coming up with the types that repopulate, re-densify or increase the density in first-string suburbs and that’s going to be a pretty detailed enterprise. It’s going to exist right there between the repeatable and the one-off because there’s going to be a few different circumstances, but not an endless number of circumstances and it’s hard to know how because that’s a real multi-variable problem how that’s going to get taken. GT –I think what I’m taking away from this conversation is actually very helpful, which is something we alluded to earlier on, in there being some clearly different branches of the conversation about prefab that we’ve been having. One of them has a lot to do with sustainability, but it has less explicitly to do with prefabrication. It has to do with regional planning, sustained communities and better integration of decision-making and I would add metrics that allow us to tie regional and local issues together because otherwise, whatever level of utopian you may be, there’s no way, in the New England region, that we’re going to make any real progress until we tie the decision making that happens at a very small scale with the regional issues


82 H O M E / W O R K that we know exist at a larger scale. There’s no way [to do this] without tying things together, it seems to me. The other thing [that I’m taking away] are the more explicit conversations about prefab that we’ve been having as well that have to do with efficiency, costs, and delivery systems.

Northeastern University


The Panelists Kiel Moe Kiel Moe is a registered architect and an assistant professor of design and building technologies at Northeastern University. He is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. He received his B.Arch from the University of Cincinnati, his M.Arch from University of Virginia, and his M.DesS in Design and Environmental Studies from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design Advanced Studies Program. He taught previously at Syracuse University where was also associated with the Syracuse Center of Energy and Environmental Excellence. Before that, he was the Herbert S. Greenwald Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. At Northeastern University, Moe teaches design studios and lectures on the topic of Integrated Design, Construction, and Energy Systems. In recognition of his teaching and pedagogy, Moe was awarded the ACSA/AIAS New Faculty Teaching Award. Moe has worked for WW, Doug Garofalo, Hargreaves Associates, among other offices. One of his articles in the Journal of Architectural Education, “Extra Ordinary Performances at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies,� was awarded the 2009 ACSA/JAE Best Scholarship of Design Award, based on his employemnt at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He has a design it - build it practice for smaller projects that tests certain propositions about architecture, yielding a small building each summer. These projects have received recognition from the ACSA, AIA state and regional awards, and North American Wood Design Awards. Moe also consults with larger offices on integrated design strategies for projects at a range of building scales, types, and climates based on his research. His first book, Integrated Design in Contemporary Architecture, was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2008. His current research focuses on Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture. His book on this topic, Thermally Active Surfaces in Architecture, will be published by Princeton Architectural Press in March 2010. His current book manuscript is entitled Solidarity: Lower-Technology, Higher-Performance Architecture.

Pe t e r Ro t h Peter Roth is a real estate developer, consultant and educator with a strong background in community development and housing as well as national experience in the area of adaptive re-use and economic development. His real estate development company focuses primarily on affordable and mixed-income housing, community-oriented commercial and arts-related development, and historic and adaptive re-use projects in the Boston area. In addition to his professional real estate activity, Mr. Roth teaches two of the core courses in the Real Estate Development Masters of Science degree program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is Chairman of the Board of the Boston Preservation Alliance, a non-profit educational and advocacy organization.

84 H O M E / W O R K

E 3 C O | Pe t e r We i d e r s p a h n e3Co System (Ecological Comprehensive Component Construction System) is a prefabricated component building system for the complete and efficient construction of environmentally friendly, low-rise, building structures. It is designed as an alternative to the relatively wasteful and laborious wood light-frame construction. e3Co System consists of long and lightweight structural insulated components that are stacked like logs in a log cabin. This system will produce buildings in three stages: 1. parametric digital modeling of the building components; 2. mass-customized fabrication of the building components; 3. coordinated sequential assembly of the components on site. The result will be an energy efficient building structure ready for the installation of standard interior and exterior finished surfaces, cabinets, and fixtures. Peter Wiederspahn received his B.Arch. from Syracuse University in 1983, and his Master of Architecture from Harvard University in 1989. He is an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture, Northeastern University, Boston, MA. His academic focus is on both urban housing and on ‘tectonics,’ the study of building construction and its significance. He was awarded a grant from the Graham Foundation for the Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts in Chicago for his research entitled, “Wood Frame Multi-Family Housing in Boston, 1865-1900.” Mr. Wiederspahn is the principal of Wiederspahn Architecture in Somerville, MA and has received numerous design excellence awards from the Boston Society of Architects. He also received a design research grant from the Boston Society of Architect for “Smart Growth Planning Prototypes.” The grant work was the first design based on new Smart Growth legislation in Massachusetts, called “Chapter 40R.” An exhibition of his design work, entitled “Domestic Space / Domestic Objects,” has traveled nationally. He currently sits on the board of the Boston Society of Architects, Design Review Board for the City of Somerville, MA, and he is the Secretary of the Rotch Traveling Scholarship Committee.

FREE GREEN | David Wax FreeGreen is currently lead by Dave Wax, chief executive officer and Ben Uyeda chief architectural officer. The strength of this team is in the diversity of their academic and professional backgrounds. Dave brings an MBA along with finance and business consulting experience. Ben, with Master of Architecture from Cornell University leads the FreeGreen design team. The motivating force behind FreeGreen is the desire to create a stronger and more profitable connection between the mainstream housing market and the architectural community, resulting in a more progressive and diverse built environment. David Wax began his career in the Energy Practice at Deloitte Consulting. Post his six year tenure at Deloitte, Dave received his MBA from the Johnson School at Cornell University. While getting his MBA Dave helped raise all necessary funds for the 2005 Cornell Solar Decathlon Team. After graduation, Dave quickly turned his Solar Decathlon network and passion for the green housing industry into a residential Architecture and Engineering Firm named ZeroEnergy Design (ZED). Dave and his co-founders grew this business, and turned their first profits in 2006. Today, ZED is a leading green design and engineering firm which has worked on over 60 projects, both in the United States and abroad. In 2008, with help from his ZED co-founders, Dave spun out what is now FreeGreen.

Northeastern University

BLU HOMES | Sarah Jazmine Bluhomes: Founded in 2007, Blu’s mission is to provide American home buyers and institutions with buildings that are healthful, economical, and beautifully designed, and to do so in a convenient, predictable and customer-centered way. Blu Homes, Inc. is a privately owned business that uses quality design, sustainable materials and leading technology. The designs reflect the unique building surroundings, and contain only healthful construction materials and treat the natural world with care. Blu’s building process not only respects the land but also the client’s time and budget. Blu builds highquality homes faster, in a controlled factory environment that minimizes waste. Blu Homes are currently being built in the Colorado Rockies, California woodlands, Carolina coast and towns throughout New England and for corporations from coast to coast. Sarah Jazmine Fugate has been put in charge of integrating energy modeling and ecological thinking at Blu. Working within the tight constraints imposed by Blu’s folding technology and reasonable price point, she works in the product development team to create increasingly simple, clean, and energy efficient designs. She is currently leading the charge on increasingly detailed thermal analysis of Blu’s steel frames using REM Design and THERM. In the long term, she hopes to lead Blu to carbon neutrality while finding creative ways to turn Blu’s innovative domestic equipment package into a tactile, thermal landscape—to be explored virtually prior to purchase as well as after purchase. Sarah recieved a Bachelor of Design in Architecture with a French minor from the University of Florida in 2005 and a Masters of Architecture from Princeton in 2009. She left Princeton with a passion for exploring unseen thermal domestic landscapes and the “equipment” (to borrow Reyner Banham’s term) that creates them. She continues to engage the recent trend toward the unseen in architecture through her work at Blu and through independent research, and recently had her translation of Aaron Plewke’s interview with Philippe Rahm published on Archinect.

George Thrush George Thrush is Director of the School of Architecture at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. His articles include “Ring City: Civic Liberalism and Urban Design” and “Boston’s New Urban Ring: An Antidote to Fragmentation”. His work seeks to connect transportation, urban design, and civic image in an increasingly privatized economic arena. He received his B.Arch. from the University of Tennessee in 1984, and his M. Arch. from Harvard University in 1988. In 2005, his work was celebrated with his entry into the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. His research, practice, writing, and teaching all revolve around contemporary urban issues in architecture. The School he heads focuses on design solutions for Boston’s “postindustrial landscape” of former transportation infrastructure and other difficult sites. He is among the primary authors of a comprehensive regional transportation and development proposal for the Boston metropolitan area called The New Urban Ring.


86 H O M E / W O R K

Karrie Jacobs Karrie Jacobs is currently a contributing editor at Metropolis magazine where she writes a monthly column, “America,” about how ideas and strategies in architecture and design play out on the landscape. She is also a contributing editor at Travel + Leisure where many of her articles deal with architecture-related destinations. Karrie was the founding editor-in-chief of Dwell, the San Francisco-based magazine about modern residential architecture and design. Prior to launching Dwell in fall of 2000, she was the architecture critic of New York Magazine, and has written about design, technology, and visual language for many periodicals including The New York Times, ID, and Fortune. Karrie was a contributing editor at House & Garden, where she blogged about architecture for the magazine’s website, until November 2007. She is the author of The Perfect $100,000 House: A Trip Across America and Back in Pursuit of a Place to Call Home, published by Viking in 2006 and Angry Graphics, written with Steven Heller, published by Gibbs Smith in 1992. Karrie is also faculty member of the Design Criticism graduate program at the School of Visual Arts where she teaches a course called Urban Curation in which she sends students out onto the streets of New York City and tries to teach them to judge for themselves the difference between a good building and a bad building, and to understand how the city changes over time.

Ivan Rupnik Ivan Rupnik is an Assistant Professor of Architectural Design at Northeastern University. He is a Presidential Fellow and PH.D. Candidate at Harvard University. He received his B.Arch from Louisiana State University, and a M.Arch II with Distinction and MAUP from Harvard University. He has been an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University, the Principal Instructor of the Architecture Program at Harvard University’s Career Discovery Program, and a Visiting Professor at the Universidad de San Francisco de Quito. Professionally, for the last two years he has been developing a new campus design for the University of Zagreb in collaboration with the Institution’s Vice Rector for Spatial Planning and Development, Bojan Baletic and designers from Harvard University and ETH Zurich. Over the last year he has been collaborating with HPNJ+ Architects on a design for Zagreb’s central urban space, Croatian Fraternal Union Square. His projects have been published in Europe and North America, and exhibited at the Venice Biennale, the Quito Biennale, ArchMoscow, and at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Academically , Rupnik’s work is focused on the development of a case study approach specifically tailored to the study of architectural practice. This approach combines aspects of design theory, history, building technology, regulation and professional practice. Ivan’s first work in this area, Project Zagreb: Transition as Condition, Strategy, Practice (Actar, 2007/8), coauthored with Professor Eve Blau, examined the development of architectural design practices within a state of permanent political, social, and economic transition. His doctoral work at Harvard examines the impact of the Control Revolution and protocomputation on architectural practice in the 1920s and 1950s, particularly in the fields of industrialized housing delivery. He is currently developing two other book projects, the first focusing on the urban archipelagos of the Eastern Adriatic and the second on the anatomy of small architectural scenes in the contemporary European context.

Northeastern University

H O M E T TA | J o h n s o n + Based in Houston, Texas, Hometta is a collaborative of designers, architects, builders, writers and editors who have banded together to rethink and improve the way residential architecture is designed today. Founder Mark Johnson and partner Andrew McFarland joined forces with four core architects and designers, whose vision has guided Hometta’s development. They, in turn, have helped recruit the 31 studios who have contributed home plans to Hometta’s first stage of life. Mark Johnson, Founder and Publisher publisher: Mark has experience running a real estate development and construction company specializing in small, green, single family residential homes. When not busy with the occasional construction projects and his Hometta endeavors, Mark has fun writing screenplays, which he seriously doubts will ever see the light of day. Jenny Staff Johnson, Editor-in-Chief: Jenny’s interest in housing developed via a background in public policy. After receiving her master’s degree in Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin, Texas, she covered Austin City Hall for two years for The Austin Chronicle, where she learned the ins and outs of building codes, neighborhood planning strategies, and most importantly, the built environment’s impact on the quality of life of a place. Jenny is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in publications from Texas Music Magazine to Christianity Today.

R E S 4 A R C H | J o e Ta n n e y Joseph Tanney is an American architect. Principal and cofounder of Resolution: 4 Architecturesince 1990, Tanney is considered a pioneer in the resurgence of prefabricated architecture. One of Tanney’s most famous designs is the Dwell Home built in North Carolina, 2004, as the winning entry of the Dwell Home Invitational held by Dwell Magazine. Tanney attended The Ohio State University for both undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture where he studied under Charles Gwathmey and Peter Eisenman. Tanney won the award for outstanding leadership in the Ohio State architectural community and graduated in 1987. Prior to starting his own firm with partner Robert Luntz, Tanney worked in the offices of Eisenman Robertson and Gwathmey Siegel. He has taught at City College in New York (2001-4), as well as the University of Kentucky (2005-06), and has been a visiting professor at Harvard University for their summer professional development program (2002-03). Tanney lectures at campuses nationwide including, Penn State University, University of North Carolina, and Pratt Institute. Tanney and his firm Resolution: 4 Architecure have received many awards during his 23-year career. Some of the most recent include: The 2006 National AIA Housing Award for Concepts in Innovative Housing, the 2005 American Architecture Award by the Chicago Athenaeum, the Boston Society of Architects’ Honor Award for Design Excellence, and the 2004 Dwell Home Design Invitational” for modern prefabricated homes. Tanney has also been featured in many publications including: The New York Times The Wall Street Journal, Dwell Magazine [ organizations/resolution-4-architecture.html], and Metropolitan Home. Television appearances include: ABC’s Nightline, CNN, CBS Morning News, as well as many HGTV programs.


88 H O M E / W O R K

Matthew Littell Matthew Littell was born and raised in Manhattan. After graduating from Columbia College in 1989, he remained in New York, designing and fabricating props for movies and advertising. He ran his own furniture and cabinetry shop in Brooklyn until he moved to Boston in 1993 to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Littell graduated from the GSD in 1997 with a Masters in Architecture, winning both the Clifford Wong Prize for the “best studio or thesis project that has as its primary focus multi-family housing,” and the James Templeton Kelley Award for the “best final design project submitted by a candidate for a professional degree in architecture.” Upon graduation, Littell worked for Schwartz/Silver Architects in Boston, doing design on various institutional projects such as the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland Maine, and renovations to the Boston Athenaeum. He joined Machado and Silvetti Associates in 1999, where he managed several master plans, including the Dewey Square Master Plan in Boston and the Clarke Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. In 2001, Littell moved to New York to manage the firm’s participation in a multi-firm master plan for FSM, a consortium of developers/financiers who had purchased the rights to develop three city blocks on Manhattan’s east side. Upon completion of the project, he continued to work on his own in New York on smaller scaled residential projects. In January 2003, Littell returned to Boston to join Utile, Inc. as a principal. Here he has focused primarily on residential development and early- phase project planning. He has been actively involved in manufactured housing, most recently moderating a panel on the subject at Build Boston 2005. Littell is a LEED accredited professional.

Pe t e r C h r i s t e n s e n Peter Christensen is a Ph.D. Candidate in Architecture at Harvard University and former Curatorial Assistant at The Museum of Modern Art, where co-organized Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling with Barry Bergdoll. In addition to coordinating the construction of five full-scale prefabricated homes in a vacant lot adjacent to the museum, Peter conducted extensive research on an array of historical prefabricated projects from the early nineteenth-century to the present. In conjunction with the exhibition Peter moderated several panels on the subject of prefabricated housing and recently gave the keynote address at the IBA conference on prefabrication in Hamburg, Germany. Peter’s other curatorial projects at MoMA included Young Architects Program 2006, co-curated with Tina DiCarlo, and On-Site: New Architecture in Spain, which he coordinated under the direction of Terence Riley. Peter’s doctoral research centers on the practice and historiography of geopolitics as a discrete discipline and its implications on architectural and territorial practices. Peter also researches the critical practices of architectural connoisseurship. Peter has published and lectured nationally and internationally, including co-authoring Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling with Barry Bergdoll (The Museum of Modern Art, 2008). Peter has received the Lee Eidlitz Fellowship from Cornell University, the Spiro Kostof Annual Meeting Award from the Society of Architectural Historians and MoMA’s Lee Tenenbaum Award for outstanding curatorial work.

Northeastern University



Conference proceedings for Homework conference at Northeastern University School of Architecture.