Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Prefabrication experiments - 411 - XS (dwellings) - Sanyo Living Pod


Extra-small housing encompasses any dwelling that is small enough to be labelled as a tiny house or a micro dwelling, usually between 10 to 40 m2, roughly the size of one or two rooms. XS housing archetypes can be set up as single family or multifamily dwellings when aggregated as kernels in patterns highlighted by Japanese Metabolist architecture. Geared for mobility, they abrogate permanent anchoring associated with conventional housing construction. Micro-dwellings can be both self-propelled and hitched. Today’s comprehensively commodified culture associated with intelligent connected objects has renewed interest for integrated capsule dwellings ready for purchase and delivery. 


Notwithstanding current interest in tiny homes, Capsules are a product of modernist design principles. The machine for living evolved into the optimistic and space age architectural imagery diffused post-World War 2. Not exclusive to Japan's design culture, capsules were however propagandized during the Expo70 international World Fair presented in Osaka, Japan under the planning authority of Metabolist architect Kenzō Tange.  The exhibit theme «Progress and Harmony of Mankind» underlined the high-tech culture fostered through Japan's major support of automation and manufacturing methodologies applied to housing production. Japan’s prefab housing industry progressed and exalted prefab capsules as a serialized product incorporating technological advancements. 


Case in Point, Sanyo, an electronics producer showcased their living pod during Expo70. The micro-unit suggested a future of technological integration in every part of our homes with electronic baths, television sets and mobile communications. The Sanyo Living Capsule, a spherical individually sized biosphere, also labelled as the Health Capsule, synthesized every living function in one extra-small ergonomic form. Perfected living conditions, light, atmosphere, heat, and ventilation were automatically controlled and would remain at monitored levels. Mass-manufacturable, they could be adapted for any collective support structure. 


The recent demolition of the Nagakin Capsule Tower stipulated a pragmatic end to the capsule culture associated with 1970s Japan. Still, the XS housing pod continues to be linked to prefabrication. Its diminutive size agues for and makes it feasible to control and finish work in a factory setting leaving minimal disturbance and simplified infrastructure connections to the job site. 

Sanyo Living Pod placed within a housing typological matrix

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Prefabrication experiments - 410 - Modern Modular : Housing and Offsite Construction 4.0

The association of housing supply with offsite construction has been described as a union of reason. Notwithstanding prefab's potential considering the high levels of repeatability, the industry is still characterized by one-off projects - prototypes - even though details, components, arrangements, and materials affirm consistency. For varied scopes and scales the argument in favour of offsite is increased affordability, sustainability, productivity, and quality through systematized processes. Current design digitalization supplemented by democratized digital fabrication technologies suggest possibilities for outlining parametric cataloguing and modelling of housing systems outlined by reproducible configurations. 


Resolution 4 Architecture's «modern modular» approach examines these potential links between architectural housing arrangements and modular volumetric building dimensional criteria. While their mass-customizable schemes expose the idealized perfect storm driving current offsite constructions uptake, prefabrication and housing have been similarly federated before. From a precisely modern perspective, diverse housing typologies were devised to organize prefabrication's theories to address past housing crises. The mobile home, Levittown bungalows, Metabolist capsules and most notably the slab panel block, pointed to mass-manufacturing to simplify supply of affordable dwellings. These proposals were developed for two urban forms: suburbanization valued the bungalow's seriality and ambitious postwar urban renewal guided the development of the panelized block. The entire spectrum between individual and collective was explored by architects or inventors to reform housing from vernacular construction to standardized processes citing the advantages industrialization brought to other consumer goods. 


Resolution 4 Architecture's exploration renews these patterns by providing a glimpse into how contemporary digitalization can inform a conceptual framework for housing. The catalogue of modules contains basic «manufacturable» fragments for users to customize their own home as one would aggregate building blocks, composing a home from predetermined integrated chunks. As manufacturing in architecture can be linked to both Ford's assembly line (component catalogues) and Toyota's production system (lean construction), the current era of smart technologies is propelling a new generation of prefab ideas. Open-source software development theories have already spawned prototypes like the Wikihouse and other digitally conceived catalogues that pursue the enduring objective of reasoning architecture through generative tessellations.

Typological matrix by Resolution 4 Architecture

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Prefabrication experiments - 409 - Housing affordability through prefab ?

Prefabrication, offsite construction, and industrialized building systems are high on everyone's agenda for tackling affordability in housing. In print, on the web or even on the evening news, age-old strategies are being discussed to address systemic issues augmenting the present crisis' increasing acuteness. From catalogues of pre-approved designs to standardized dwelling blocks, policy makers are scrambling to increase supply as construction costs keep rising. Prefabrication is being promoted as a way of reducing timelines and costs up to 50%; Suggesting unrealistic promises based on reduced planning as projects will be repeated from site to site with little variations. This idealized view of prefabrication is how the unfavorable preconceptions toward industrialized construction evolved: shoddy cookie-cutter models produced quickly and cheaply often also implying weaker designs. The truth is, when done well, prefabrication can be beautiful and contribute to a setting’s heritage along with optimizing both costs and schedules. Seriality or even standardization do not imply banality; Good design can be produced for the masses.


Certain elements can certainly be repeated from project to project; however, architecture is anchored to a particular place that implies detailed planning to respond to zoning, climate, structural criteria, or material restrictions. These conditions enumerate a few site-specific elements that can’t be standardized. 


So, can prefabrication contribute to addressing the housing crisis? Guidelines should consider holistic and integrated supply chains with stakeholders, from manufacturers to professionals discussing potentials honestly without the need to promote or demote offsite with outdated attitudes or untenable promises. Prefabrication and offsite can be an important component in reducing waste while controlling quality. Adapting manufacturing methods to make building parts is already used in the industry for all disparate components needed to assemble a building. A breakthrough would offer complete subassemblies that reduce on site labor to a minimum and standardize shared processes through developing patterns for customizable designs. 


In similar times of crisis, architects imagined factory production as a tool for increasing production capacity. The next blog posts will share some housing proposals according to their scale and relative success in applying mass production strategies to the architecture of dwellings. 

Mass produced components for a Levittown bungalow

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Prefabrication experiments - 408 - Kit-of-parts and Standardization

Jaimie Johnston, Head of Global Systems at Bryden Wood and Design Lead for the Construction Innovation Hub, has spoken enthusiastically about the changes taking place within the construction industry, specifically the shift toward offsite construction. The Bryden Wood approach is articulated to the same kit-of-parts strategy deployed for post-war housing crises but described in contemporary terms.  The current Modern Methods of Construction / Platform construction space, suggested by Johnston and his firm influenced the UK Government’s Construction Playbook, whose core policy «harmonize, digitize and rationalize demand» creates new opportunities to apply a consistent set of technical standards to assets being built across a given sector. This «platform» level of standardization has the capability to streamline design and construction, giving the industry a lever to scale supply. 


Johnston defines this standardized, foundational approach as a springboard, setting up the prospect of working with more sophisticated industrialized manufacturing methodologies like DfMA. The idea of standardization is important for achieving economies but should not be an obstacle to architectural innovation. Efficient production applied to building must be done the right way including all stakeholders including the creativity that goes along with architectural design. The standard, normalized, terminology associated with past prefab experiments has long challenged offsite uptake to reform construction.  


The kit-of-parts or platform DfMA processes do not refer to the end products (traditional or alternative structures), but rather to the design criteria and choices marking-out building needs. As such, the kit-of-parts methodology does not relate to one strategy either modular or panelized but to a symbiotic use of materials and assemblies to facilitate everything from supply chain management to onsite coordination. Each industrialized construction strategy can be looked at as a tool in the overall construction process adapting to projects, sites, and functional requirements, reforming the «silo» nature of the construction ecosystem; Platforms are toolkits for building singular projects from cooperating sources. Whatever vocabulary is used to portray a novel approach to industrialized construction the underlying benefits of standardization are clear: sharing and defining elemental logistics across multiple projects increases efficiencies at every level.

Modular vehicle platform

Monday, January 22, 2024

Prefabrication experiments - 407 - Incremental Housing


Open Building theory encompasses several concepts that mark out a prospective systemic adaptability in a building’s design and production: modular construction details, flexible planning principles and user participation. Founded on the idea that malleable and interoperable systems could evolve readily according to changing needs or requirements during a building's lifespan, the theory recommends fluid or circular processes rather than fixed linear ones. Planning for change in function and lifestyle requires a holistic view of how patterns fluctuate over time. Open building protagonists have developed products, techniques, and methods to mitigate the waste that usually goes along with inevitable change.  


Two approaches that are sometimes related to open building and adapting to change are unfinished housing and core-housing which relate to the supply of necessary functional elements around which a more complex system could stem. Both strategies are extracted from understanding that populations might not have the resources or the need to build a complete housing infrastructure from the onset. 


Incremental housing, a combination of unfinished and core, has been promoted by Priztker Prize winning architect, Alejandro Aravena in multiple projects as an instruction manual to develop resilient communities from first core-service elements to planning strategies for aggregating all appended spaces over time. A series of predetermined elements (basic needs) designed as linear, radial, or dynamic arrangements outline networks onto which private and individual units can organically take shape matching their community’s evolutions. 


Incremental housing also involves indetermined spaces that are added, adapted, constructed, or deconstructed over time. Gradual adaptations link two complementary spaces, a first step core and an adjacent flexible space. From this simple juxtaposition, neighborhoods could expand horizontally or vertically. This core principle has informed many experiments in developing countries where informal or even crisis planning principles sometimes impede the bulk supply and rationalized procurement of edifices. Planning informal, undetermined infrastructure over 5, 10,15 years commands systematic governance where inhabitants are given authority over certain types of changes made to their environment while other modifications are approved by the group. A symbiotic relationship between collective and individual is the most basic criteria of incremental house planning.    


Top: Incremental Housing by Elemental
Bottom: Incremental housing principles -

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Prefabrication experiments - 406 - Modular naval construction as a model

Industrialized building / offsite construction protagonists have contemplated successes in bordering industries for inventiveness to increase productivity in construction. Automobile manufacturing served as one of the earliest benchmarks of serial fabrication potentially suitable for architecture. Assembly line principles led to the development of the mobile home and later to more factory intensive building systems, namely heavy precast panels in Germany, France and beyond. Recent digital advances in manufacturing methodologies have reinvigorated the links with car production as an icon of platform thinking, making differentiated products from the same composing parts, underbellies, or chassis. Aeronautics has also been projected onto building production as planes are assembled with large factory-made hunks that are seamlessly integrated according to models, known as digital or fabrication twins. 


Perhaps the most compelling comparison is with shipbuilding, as it has evolved into a type of coordinated stacking of big chunks inspiring construction of buildings with similar large-scale factory-finished boxes. An example of multi-trade prefabrication or near-ship prefabrication, parts are fashioned into large blocks which are then assembled as a complete hull. Further, shipbuilding, especially cruise ship building, addresses the same challenges posed by buildings, as they are basically large floating hotels with spaces, functions and even components that collective housing blocks include. 


Modularity in shipbuilding is also suggested as a way of reducing costs, delays and waste associated with complete ship overhauls to face changing and evolving needs. As in buildings, ship life spans can be increased substantially by integrating intelligent assembly and disassembly principles to make any modifications or updates simpler. Interoperable components, dimensional coordination, plug and play self-contained boxes and repeatable ship segments that can be used across multiple crafts are all elements that cross the boundary between naval architecture and building design.  Commonalities between ships can be typical galleys, medical facilities, rooms, and service cores that can be designed to fit into multiple ships distributing their planning costs over multiple product lines. This modularity and platform theory applied in naval yards is seen as a strategy to combat premature obsolescence and to harmonize complex supply chains, an estimable model for modular buildings.     

An example of modular ship hull composition

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Prefabrication experiments - 405 - Interior Partition Systems


Current practices and literature affirm the construction industry’s wastefulness and suggest that adaptability policies, while adopted marginally, can reduce waste during an edifice’s lifespan. Walls and partitions are still fashioned with plasterboard to be surfaced with joint compound and then painted. Conventional methods impede any changes over time without messy demolition. Streamlined construction has resisted the potentials of simple dry reversible connections and components. Designed-in malleability could make an important contribution to buildings’ interior systems evolution. 


Buildings functional evolution over time, constantly requires some wall relocation or reorganization. These reworkings fill dumps as internal rearranging of service spaces can occur every 10-15 years, sometimes even more frequently.  Programming or including dry construction / reversible assemblies in wall erection reduces required demolition, new resource harvesting and material refuse.


This is not a new idea. In the early 1970s Nijhuis Bouw BV a Dutch builder proposed a manufactured partition system: the 4 dee Inbouw. The wall kits included all framing, floor sills, top plates, and variable infill opaque or transparent patterns. All system elements adhered to a modular grid of 30cm with two height options, 2,4 or 2,6 m. A basic 1,2m wide panel, composed of 4 grid modules, slid into removable floor, and ceiling channels, making the system fully relocatable. Suggesting a more circular approach to construction, impermanent partition systems can reduce a building’s environmental footprint as materials can be recovered and employed over multiple life cycles reforming the extract, use, dispose methodology that characterizes modern construction. 


DIRTT is a Canadian company commercializing the same type of panelized wall kit to facilitate long term flexibility. The multi-trade interior construction system is related to Nijhuis' system, components for framing are dry assembled and can be as easily disassembled as they are assembled. DIRTT takes the idea one step further in panel customization:  A vast cloud catalogue of materials and finishes make the system fully mass customizable using the company's planning software to streamline the planning, fabrication, delivery, and assembly process.

Left: 4 Dee Inbouw system; Right: DIRTT's multi-trade interior construction system

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Prefabrication experiments - 404 - Open-source kit from Schemata Workshop


Industrialized building systems, the topic of abundant literature, are inspiring a new generation toward a revolution in construction. Accentuated by digital manufacturing concepts, modern processes can alter both design and building production. DfMA, «platform» methodologies, or offsite, are all discussed as innovative prefabrication theories improving construction’s stagnating productivity and have increased mainstream attention for preparing building chunks in factories.  


Recent, significant venture capital investments have identified offsite as perhaps the next Klondike or at least the sole remaining sector to have escaped high value industrialization; According to many, construction industrialization’s day has finally come. Even architectural firms that have contested the standardization associated with factory produced architecture are suggesting prefab as a better design/building/business model.


Schemata workshop, a Seattle, USA based design firm has developed two systems that transcribe digital potentials for design. The first developed with manufacturer Dogwood industries is an integrated service core known as Middlemod. The consortium-based business, Building and Module Manufacturing LLC (BAMM) unites architects and fabricators in a limited liability partnership.  The modular core is designed to fit into any construction system and can adapt to multiple spatial arrangements. The unit is planned to maximize factory preassembly, facilitate just-in-time delivery to any site with simple plug-and-play utility connections, and optimize virtual coordination. The MIddlemod concept sometimes also known as a combo-pod includes kitchen, bath, and utility room.


The firm’s other product is a component-based structural frame and kit that speeds up design by systematizing parts, construction, and assembly details from project to project. The steel skeletal and panelized building system includes envelope segments, windows, PV panels for energy production and mechanical distribution in a digital distributable format. The open-source methodology intends to bring affordability to housing production by multiplying the number of projects using the same parts, exploiting serial production. Schemata Workshop along with their partners envisioned this construction system to reduce waste at all project stages.


While promising in theory, the open-source concept applied to architecture is still relatively marginal. However, firms like Elemental, 369 pattern buildings and even Wikihouse share innovative building ideas and improve them through harvesting crowd iterations. The digital revolution applied to prefab suggests these platform-based directions to help the building sector at last adhere to industrialization’s promised advantages.

left: Combo pod; right: Kit-of-parts

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Prefabrication experiments - 403 - Lego Block Modularity


Growing, scaling, and adapting homes according to evolving needs can be governed by systemic modularity. Potentially outlining the intensified use of industrialized building methods for affordable housing, modular flexibility positions standardized or regulated design strategies as well as interoperable sub-assemblies toward many variable housing arrangements. Dimensional coordination, repeating parts and details frame the principles of this ingrained adaptability. Interchangeable pieces and even spaces can sequence generative criteria according to functional parameters. Modularity combined with service distribution grids and networks can structure element-based schemes combining, aligning, stacking, and juxtaposing room fragments or mechanical units to personalize dwelling design. 


A group of researchers in South Korea has explored a type of space-block modularity in a core house system. The proposal is conceptually like other core-housing prototypes; The systematized one-storey boxes about the size of a common room surround service spaces. Each box is attached with a vertical sliding lock mechanism used to stitch the system into a single family or multi-unit residential building. The locking curtain wall uses a combination of extrusions that friction-fit and slip together. Their ease of assembly is also reversible making it possible to move entire wall planes to respond to new or evolving family dynamics.  Stair or roof segments complete the dwellings and conform to a set of design rules and dimensional conditions. Technical core spaces include services in a centralized, linear, or even cross pattern; organisations can branch out into larger tract housing subdivisions which link the core dwellings with an underlaid urban distribution.  


Pushing this concept even further the proposal includes energy independence using solar roof panels for electricity and central distribution of other active energy systems.  The expanding housing kernels can be multiplied in all directions from the focalized hub unit displaying the analogy to Lego Blocks. The overall modular composition could feasibly be assembled using mass-produced boxes or even reuse existing segments and sections from dwellings that downsize and no longer require all their initial components. Uniting flexibility with adaptability makes this type of scalable system potentially mass manufacturable to optimally control construction costs, increased scalability and quality by monitoring all aspects of the product’s fabrication.

See full article at

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Prefabrication experiments - 402 - Aqueduct House


Service circulation is a multifaceted and unavoidable part of building construction often studied too simplistically when designing industrialized building systems. Except for service cores which integrate disparate technical elements in a manufactured hub or pod, strategies for networking services over multiple homes or types is limited; Off-site construction using mechanical pods is habitually applied to distinct constructions.  Multi storey dwelling blocks usually use similar core principles to stack multiple apartments' kitchens or baths to rationalize piping through vertical chases. Scaling or imagining these practices for civil infrastructure could lead to more efficiently sharing amenities and a more integrated approach to community planning including standardized and shareable schemes. 


Servicing dwellings cost-effectively becomes particularly critical in contexts where facilities and their democratization are sparse, at best. Developing countries facing housing crises or building in remote locations require concepts that make allotment of power and water supply or disposal the basic framework of community planning. 


Alejandro Aravena's Elemental practice has made sharing universally resilient housing designs based on combining industrialized and low-teck solutions a staple of multiple proposals. Perhaps, best known for their Villa Verde scheme in Chile where occupants could personalize half of a core-dwelling prototype, the firm has deployed similar adaptable principles for larger housing tracts. Their ambitious speculative proposal, Aqueduct House, suggests civil engineering elements, sidewalks and paths, to equip a linear urban plan:  A sidewalk and a first-floor girder span multiple lots as box beams or caissons forming a continuous duct line and a common support system. The reinforced concrete tubes channel mechanical elements across divided parcels to align a band of flexible townhouse spaces.  Demising rectangular concrete columns indicate property lines and support the concrete beam onto which other urban elements such as lighting can be connected. 


As in most other core housing prototypes, occupants play a major role in the construction of their dwellings, their evolution, and their community development. The brutalist overhead conduit is proposed as an assembly of modular concrete elements; a type of kit-of-parts civil power bar that could be set up and branched out in any context.

Elemental's Aqueduct House proposal