Our discussion on BSB’s audacious efforts to revolutionize the high-rise industry initially struck me as odd. The world’s tallest skyscrapers were some of the most glamorous buildings on the planet, housing luxury hotels, high-end housing, and sophisticated businesses. Why would those tenants settle for a drab, boring, low-end pre-fab building? But our case highlighted that there were many advantages to pre-fabricated construction, and I came to the realization that I was deeply and unfairly biased against pre-fab construction methods. Every other industry does some sort of pre-fabrication. My car, my clothes, my electronics – all are prefabricated, reducing the price, increasing the quality, and increasing my satisfaction as a user. Why should the construction industry be any different?
The short answer – it shouldn’t. And in my estimation, these new construction methods could help America solve some of its most pressing challenges. First, pre-fab housing can help America build the housing it desperately needs. It’s estimated that in the post-Great Recession recovery, the country will require three million additional rental units over the next ten years . That’s a lot. By my math, an over 50% bump from what was built in the preceding decade . Given the speed at which pre-fab housing can be deployed, this technology could help the country provide quickly the additional housing it needs.
Second, this building technology could help us reduce the cost of housing. Given the lack of waste in terms of material and time, the cost savings from construction could translate into a meaningful reduction in the expense Americans must pay for the housing. Currently, housing costs are a major burden to the majority of Americans, low-income and otherwise . Reducing the monthly outlay for housing, even marginally, would provide significant relief to many.
Finally, pre-fab technology provides a more environmentally-sustainable alternative to our currently energy-intensive, sprawling approach to land use. Pre-fab housing can more easily incorporate energy-saving technologies and support high-density density development than traditional construction methods . Lowering energy expenditures and reducing the servicing costs for municipalities (fewer sewers, roads, etc) would both be welcome changes for many Americans taxpayers.
To access these advantages, however, I and other Americans must overcome our knee-jerk aversion to pre-fab buildings. For example, we must understand that you do not need to sacrifice style with pre-fab construction. Just look at the work of Dutch architect Hans van Heeswijk and his vision for modular single-family “towers.” The concept is innovative (families select the modules they want and need – one for eating, one for sleeping, etc , and stack them as they’d like) and the outcome is stunning . Indeed, style along with other false compromises, need not be sacrificed to access the benefits of pre-fab.
To be sure, these new construction methods offer many advantages. It’s up to us to get comfortable with them.
1. Emily Badger. The Atlantic Cities. 25 February 2013. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2013/02/us-simply-doesnt-have-enough-available-rental-housing-whether-youre-rich-or-poor/4791/ accessed March 2013.
2. Quick Facts, Apartment Stock. National Multi Housing Council. http://www.nmhc.org/Content.cfm?ItemNumber=55494 accessed March 2013.
3. Allison Arieff. The Atlantic cities. 21 September 2011. http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2011/09/trailer-park-new-model-affordable-housing/160/
4. Meandering Tower House, Hans van Heeswijk. http://www.heeswijk.nl/nl/projecten/woningbouw/14.MtH/14.MtH.html# accessed March 2013.