At lunch today I went with Guillaume Canivet to visit the Simpatico Homes prototype modular house in Emeryville. Seth Krubriner, the owner of the house explained the design and construction process from start to finish. The modules were constructed in San Jose by Eco Offsite. Swatt Architects was also involved. This sounds like a lot of cooks in the kitchen…..so I am curious how the collaboration worked. Seth gave a very interesting and honest presentation of the benefits and drawbacks of modular construction compared to conventional site built. His house actually has site built pieces added onto the modules.
To me, it seems that the best part of choosing a modular system over conventional is that you are limited by the modular system. There are fewer choices and therefore the design process is simpler. Just like a restaurant with a short menu, the specialization and simplification often yields a better product.
Without a good understanding of the system and a willingness to work with it and accommodate it in the design, a modular house might not be any less expensive than a conventionally built house, and could easily cost more, especially if the factory was not very close to the site.
In Seth’s house the joints between the modules are accentuated and celebrated. (you can see one of the joints, a black reglet, in the photo above.) This is an example of how the design should accommodate the system. If Seth were to try for a more traditional aesthetic he would have lost some of the savings.
This same simplification and cost savings could be achieved by an architect who presented a limited pallet of materials and a select contractor and offered to deliver a very specific product. Not a bad idea.