For over 10 years, Studio 804 at the University of Kansas School of Architecture & Urban Design has been churning out real projects through their design-build program. Many of these projects endevored to create prototypical housing for the surrounding community, potentially offering affordable housing alternatives. This year’s program was dubbed “Modular3,” after two previous completed versions. Like its predecessors, Modular3 was designed to be built in uniformly sized modules at a warehouse location, later to be joined together once relocated on-site.

This is a great example of how effective prefab construction can be when it is well designed. Although we have seen many great ideas for prefab projects, it is a small proportion that makes it off the drawing boards and into construction, much less into mass production. One of the (many) reasons for this is that it takes a lot of research- mostly empirical- to work out the logistics of a new system. Drawing on the experience of previous projects, Studio 804 was able to design and construct a home employing off-site, modular construction techniques as well as environmentally friendly materials, in a mere 20 weeks.

That is not to say that it was easy.

As with any project, even the best planning can’t predict all of the potential pitfalls. Six weeks into the project, the proposal was rejected by the State’s Historical Society, and the team was forced to find another site. The new location required many changes: different setbacks, exposures, and site dimensions resulted in a redesign of the project.

The new design still revolved around modules, which were framed, roofed, insulated, and finished out within the warehouse location. Once complete, they were temporarily braced, wrapped in plastic, trucked to the site, and lifted in place. The assembled pieces were then clad, HVAC and plumbing systems were connected, and the sitework was completed (sounds easy, right?)

Many sustainable principles were incorporated into the finished project: environmentally friendly products were chosen (water-based sealants, bamboo flooring,) energy efficiency was maximized (recycled cellulose insulation and efficient HVAC units,) and careful consideration was given to keep damage to the site at a minimum.

Check out the weekly diary of Studio 804’s Modular3 project.

+Studio 804 & Modular3