Levittown, Sears Catalog homes, pods. Every few years, there is an attempt to standardize the residential construction process. Always touted as the path of the future… but here we are, still mostly building homes one stick at a time.
The ongoing version of standardization is manufactured homes. Geared toward the low-cost market, these homes still suffer from negative connotations of mobile homes, not always deserved. Built in a controlled factory environment, they may well benefit from higher precision of materials and installation.
Can this factory approach serve as an incubator for the recent interest in panelization and modular components? The communist government in Eastern Europe perfected this method, with modular assemblies of bathroom/ kitchens containing all the plumbing and central HVAC. These were placed by crane into concrete highrise assemblies. It was a good idea, except for the lousy concrete work.
The governing equation in housing is Q(uality) x S(cope) = C(ost) x T(ime) 1. Can modern US manufactured housing companies learn from Levittown, from the communist builders? Maybe we identify which parts are suitable to mass-production, for example, the exterior shell and a “utility core.” Other parts might be best built on-site. Will this allow us to reduce the time, and maybe cost from waste and transfer of individual component parts, in order to allow for an increase in quality?
And what about the issue of "sameness"? A quick glance at new townhouses will confirm that we are quickly barreling towards uniformity in design already. So that might be o.k., as long as the structure of the house allows for the homeowner's adaptive re-use.
This is the new “edge” of the home design and construction. Stay tuned - today we just asked the questions to introduce the theme. Next week, we’ll look at the implications this may have on energy efficiency. And then....
For more reading: Kieran, S., J. Timberlake.2004. Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies Are Poised to Transform Building Construction, McGraw Hill, New York.