We as a profession speak romantically about prefabrication and mass production as a way to bring thoughtful design, no…architecture, to mainstream homebuyers. We speak of efficiencies and cost reduction that can be achieved by applying modern manufacturing methodologies. We hope for construction costs of $150/sf and “fast” schedules of 6 months.
We are a little lost.
Currently there is mass production in housing on a mammoth scale, happening not in controlled factories, but out in the converted farmland of exurbia. Thousands of houses at a time are rolled out on blindingly fast schedules, with sequenced assembly line-like efficiency. Our home improvement retailers, like Home Depot and Lowes, are a catalogue of their employed ingredients. This industry’s bottom line is closer to $60-75/sf and houses are completed in 40-75 days. It is the fast food of shelter- carried out with much bottom line forethought, and formatted for temporal sensory satisfaction. Much in parallel with our food industry, space is delivered in higher quantity at lower cost, and the bulging beltline of American houses is the result. In 1950 the average American new house size was 850sf. Today it is up to 3 1/2 times that.
This project isn’t looking to solve any larger issues with suburban sprawl. We are not knee-jerk front porch neighborhood militants. We see these sprawling communities, even with their nods to new urbanism and pedestrian infrastructure, as still a bit Frankenstonian, but desirable for many Americans. Their land use strategies are still metered by automobiles and the resulting physical and social detachment has long ago reshaped the landscape of our country’s culture. That horse left the barn long ago. We are not looking to change the matrix, rather we want to participate to understand the economics, both time and money, of this industry. We are trying to use the same ingredients to cook a better cake, one slice at a time.
We were asked to collaborate on a new model of tract house, a new American bungalow. The metrics are simple: 3 bedrooms and two bathrooms minimum, two car garage mandatory. The house needs to meet or exceed the economics of the competition.
This is what we came up with.