Prefabricated Architecture and Product Design

In a recent article posted on Core77, Gordon Stott argues for a transition in design thinking around fabricated architecture. He writes that, “if houses were designed, manufactured and distributed more like products, good design would be far more affordable and many more people could build their dream home.”

Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Momentum has gradually been building behind the idea that prefab homes could be an important part of construction solutions in the future. One of the most recent innovations is the Unity Home, a building that matches construction durability standards, can pop up in just three days, is net-zero energy and is relatively competitively price-wise at around $150 per square foot.

Moving construction of modules followed by a short on-site assembly period offers a number of innovative opportunities. The Unity Home design was developed in collaboration with the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and is reportedly outfitted with the largest collection of Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified building products in a residential project.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s recent report, Delivering the circular economy: A toolkit for policymakers, looked at issues of prefabrication and construction in a policy context. It found that on average around 75% of costs from new homes comes as a result of the construction processes. Furthermore, 10-15% of the material input is wasted through a combination of over-ordering, storage issues or just poor coordination between stakeholders. Chinese build company, Broad Group, recently constructed a 30-story hotel in just six and a half months spending only 15 of those days on-site and reporting total savings amounting to 10-30%.

Prefabricated modular methods of construction also bring additive manufacturing techniques, including 3D-printing, into play. Building company WinSun has created full-sized 3D-printed houses claiming 30-60% in terms of material savings, with much of that work taking place in a prefabrication context.

Stott’s argument is that while prefabrication is gradually being embraced more and more as a construction technique, the next savings point, large-scale duplication methods, has yet to be truly adopted.

His point is that too often prefab competitiveness is negated by a traditional housing manufacturing mindset. The focus of off-site construction has been to replicate standard building processes, rather than taking advantage of the potential opportunity in aiming to replicate a product manufacturing mindset.

It’s an interesting viewpoint and an interesting conversation. The economic and business case for prefabrication is clearly there along with the opportunity to create a more effective system in the built environment sector.

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Seb Egerton-Read

Seb Egerton-Read

Seb writes daily content for Circulate across the full spectrum of the website's topics. Previously he has spent five years as a freelance writer for a number of websites and blogs. You can e-mail Seb at seb[at]