Thursday, November 9, 2017

Prefabrication experiments - 147 - Future visions - 8 - Megastructures

As contemporary information technology percolates building culture, the potential to industrialize entirely personalized and personalizable building systems expands. Software and hardware platforms allow users to interact more directly and define their environments.  Building information modeling, large scale 3d printing and all manner of numerically controlled cutting devices are reforming the way buildings are designed and built. This greater personalisation potential consequently repositions an argument in favour of generic collective infrastructures capable of sustaining individualization particularly in terms of the collective housing block.

Framed as “supports and infill” John Habraken’s theories are increasingly relevant as customizable kits could be designed and manufactured to be simply fitted into a common substructure. The mega-structure plug and play capsule architectural discourse and aesthetic synonymous with the second half of the twentieth century proposed a utopia of fully modular, transformable and adaptable dwellings. As migration patterns and expanding populations increase the need for adequate, affordable, flexible and dense housing solutions, the mega-structure has reintegrated architectural exploration.


A speculative proposal by Edge Design -  Gifu Kitagata housing interprets the generic structure’s potential. It proposes networks and infill patterns based on vertical communities, each with their own light building system. This type of vertical spatial organization and development explores the mega-structure as an active component supporting individualized dwellings and community development. Envisioning a future where mega-structures offer more than a support structure, “the pod vending machine” designed as a competition pitch by Haseef Rafiei proposes a veritable construction machine: A vertical skeletal frame integrating a capacity for generating individual dwellings. The conceptual project proposes a unique user experience in terms of dwelling procurement. Combining the contemporary microdwelling with a superstructure modular frame that acts as a giant 3d printer and crane, the machine deposits and positions dwellings as required. Further, dwellings can be repositioned over time and offer potential to be adapted for different needs. Historical precedents such as the Nagakin Capsule Tower (1972) by Kisho Kurukawa imagined similar futurist systems where dwellings are interchangeable consumables. Here in a similar proposal users not only can choose their pod but also have it the way they want it as the just in time production crane delivers a user-defined dwelling. 

Capsule Tower - Gifu Kitagata Housing - Pod Vending Machine

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Prefabrication experiments - 146 - future visions - 07 - The mobile home as mass housing - The Alpod

Even as other industries embraced industrialisation and the resulting heightening of productivity and quality, factory production of housing has largely festered in a debate between onsite or offsite construction. Even in the most industrialized nations manufactured housing remains a marginal portion of production. Throughout the 20th century factory built dwellings were regarded at best as reforming building culture or at worst as a poor replication of traditional building. At the core of the debate, a popular commercial story was evolving. By 1978 when HUD (Housing and Urban Development) established the Manufactured Housing Program, the mobile home sector of the housing industry was fulfilling what others had only dreamed of; producing an accessible and integrated product dwelling in a factory setting.

Contrary to other more progressive political systems in post World War II, and ignoring marginal collective housing experiments, the private sector was generally responsible for mass housing in the United States. The mobile home made the American dream of home ownership accessible. Today more than 20 million people live in the 8 million mobile homes produced and while the sector’s setbacks are well documented (fire, condensation, formaldehyde, and suspect building methods) the Manufactured Housing program has yielded a successful model. The negative connotations associated with the mobile home, although still prevalent, are gradually being replaced by architects, designers, developers taking notice of this small, efficient, mobile, flexible and adaptable building type. As housing is adapting to a substantially more informed market place, design is becoming a central force in realigning the sector’s potential.

Conceivably a result of the integrated smart phone culture, The «Alpod» aluminum pod prototype designed by Cybertecture, Aluhouse and Arup offers a look into the conceivable future of the mobile home. The stressed skin aluminum singlewide structure is a simple container-like multifunctional completely integrated unit; a made for order manufactured good. The Alpod’s roof and short walls include operable skylights and vents for natural ventilation while the long walls are either opaque or completely glazed. Highlighting the manufactured house's benefits and renewing its design culture, the efficient aluminum container, is proposed as a mobile hotel suite, minimal dwelling, cabin or exhibit space.  A definite dissociation from the customary mobile home designs, this forward-looking proposal endeavours to bridge the gap between design and housing production.  

From the mobile home to the Alpod



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Prefabrication experiments - 145 - Future visions - 06 - Kite Bricks: an open and industrialized building block

A curious thing about the evolution of architecture and construction and wall systems in particular, even as industrialization allowed for greater component delineation, is the closed up character of architecture’s internal organs. Wiring, plumbing, insulation and systems in general are not only hidden but restricted leaving costly retrofit options requiring major demolition and reconstruction. This sealed nature can be read as the remains of archaic wet construction methods.  Modern building culture has for the most part accepted assembly of dry components as quicker, more efficient and reversible with the exception of interior finishes, which are still highly bonded by wet construction, plaster joints, and painting, all difficult to reverse or disassemble. This sealing of systems makes adapting existing building stock through renovation and retrofit a little more difficult and argues for some type of open and accessible partition system to facilitate retrofit and gain easy access to hidden components.

Kite Bricks is the invention of an Israeli start-up company with a patent-pending technology that is trying to reform building culture one «open» brick at a time with their «smart brick». The smart brick is part of an interlocking system of high strength lightweight concrete blocks bonded together not with mortar but with a polymer based cement. Each dimensionally coordinated block is cast with a void for insulation, wiring and other technical ducting. The structural system systematizes an infrastructural void, which can be easily accessed after construction. The modular blocks will be available within a series of different finishes and require little additional labour on site besides assembly. Akin to cellular block construction, Kitebrick contains one special difference: a removable face.  This forward looking system leverages the advantages of mass construction, inertia, strength, durability, thermal mass with the advantages of dry construction, rapidity, easy asembly and low onsite waste. The network of voids could potentially simplify acoustic and fire separation issues as well as all the dangerous elements are not only accessible but encased in fireproof concrete.


The system’s theoretical framework provides a vision for the future of construction where the internal mysteries of the wall are as simple as the intelligible interlocking system of a Lego block.  

Kitebrick - a patent-pending technology

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Prefabrication experiments - 144 - Future visions - 05 - The composite house - a database of spatial devices

Useful and functional, the cold-formed metal framing system known as Unistrut has endured for close to a century. Since 1924, the multipurpose system has developed into a complete kit of parts including adapters for diversifying the system’s applications from partitions to electrical distribution. The Unistrut’s plug and play logic has succeeded where most comparable architectural systems have failed. Architecture assembled from plug and play parts has remained predominantly stylistic.

Architecture and construction systems have rarely put the potential of a systemic universality through assembly adapters to the test. Recent research in «open building» and in «open source construction systems» has examined the notion of universal architectural systems. One such study by FAT (Free art and technology lab) in 3d printing led to a universal toy kit that could mix with other toy sets such as Legos, Meccano, etc. The framework for sharing components and giving a system’s users the potential to create and vary a basic architecture could be explored on a larger scale in order to reform the proprietary nature of our building culture. 

Designed by SU11, an innovative architectural practice in New York, the Composite House proposed a housing system using composite materials to create large scale molded functional or spatial units that can be assembled in a multitude of spatial and structural compositions. A life-size 3d puzzle identifies components such as wall storage units, bathroom pods, entry staircase pods, as part of a veritable database of architectural devices. Spatial devices define and delineate an interior flexible architectural space.


The composite elements can be fixed to any skeletal structure in timber, steel or concrete. Although the precise means of assembling are not revealed the potential for open and systemic integration exists, again, in theory. The self-supporting, composite pods conjure images of Archigram’s plug-in city or Kisho Kurokawa’s capsule tower strangely combined with Walter Segal’s or Ken Isaac’s self-build structures. Combining technology with the theoretical framework of play once again arrives at the architectural kit, this time however a kit of architectural devices as opposed to the technical devices. The enduring question remains, how do we reconcile this type of architectural scheme with century old building technology that still somehow prefers the flexibility provided by onsite stick building?

Composite House - potential organisation



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Prefabrication experiments - 143 - visions of the future - 04 - Flexibility and adaptability : The Suitcase House by Gary Chang

Mechanization, mass-production and the accompanying commodification of building culture drastically changed domesticity. The dwelling was forever more technology driven and a vessel for enjoying services and amenities.  Standard of living was anchored to the idea of convenience and lifestyles were projected to be increasingly dynamic. Diversity in matters of family type and composition was to become the norm. Houses would need an integrated capacity to adapt to this intensifying change.

Twentieth century architecture is fraught with projects proposing dwellings that could at once transform and adjust to varying conditions, lifestyles or context. Further the theme of mobility accompanied adaptability and flexibility to advance the idea of a multifunctional house. A sample experiment, «suitcase house» proposed by the Palace Corporation in 1945 was an easily assembled, demountable and transportable dwelling unit suited to the needs of migrating populations.

More than half a century later, another «suitcase house» was proposed by an architect exploring the notion of multiple functions and their time-based interaction.  Gary Chang designed the multi-use house with the idea of spatial transformation in mind. Known for his 24 room variation of a 344 sq ft apartment, (see  24 Rooms Tucked Into One by Virginia Gardiner  in New York Times; January 14, 2009), his design for the suitcase house is a veritable architectural transformer. The house’s piano nobile is cantilevered into the landscape by an opaque foundation prism. The two-storey house is anchored to the Chinese landscape in a town named Badaling just north of Beijing. The house is a simple manifestation of an open plan structured by a series of structural porticoes. The box frame structured plan is reconfigurable accommodating up to 14 people in numerous functional scenarios. The multifunctional strata can be adapted by manipulating screens, which divide the open plan into a series of rooms. The house’s foundation is where most of the multiple functions are concealed. Trap doors access these chambers used for sleeping, working or relaxing. 


Built in 2001, the utopian longhouse employs a stratified section of served and service spaces. The service spaces housed in the lower container are closed off to the surrounding landscape while the relationship between the living spaces and the environment is filtered by a matrix of varying filigree screens.

Suitcase House confirguration