Residential Design

VOL.6 2018

A business-to-business magazine focused on the collaborative process and talented work of residential architects and custom homebuilders.

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And with his brand new company, Tektoniks, he's gone in the opposite direction—simply providing his com- ponents to larger-scale multifamily and commercial construction projects led by developers, architects, and commer- cial builders. "At our factory what we're really producing is panelization, and that suite of building assemblies is available for Bensonwood projects, Unity projects, and Tektoniks. They aren't substantial- ly different, but they may be thicker or thinner. We've basically distilled those families of assemblies to get dependable building performance and to manufac- ture them efficiently," he explains. What's left to conquer? A kind of Unity Homes for high-end residential. Rest assured, that's in the works. The plan is to launch a platform of archi- tect-designed houses built with the high-performance components Ben- sonwood companies have engineered. What excites Tedd about the initiative is the opportunity to make houses that can meet even more demanding levels of energy efficiency and resource conservation. At present, the factory is capable of making a house to Pas- sivhaus standards (and has on several occasions), but the Unity Homes mis- sion to remain affordable precludes the extra cost involved. More is Less Why have so many companies doing seemingly similar things? Tedd has a big factory and a lot of machines to keep busy. Unlike several factories in other parts of the country, his enterprise is not underwritten by venture capital money. "We are bootstrapped with local bank financing, and they attached everything including my dog," he jokes. Quips aside, there's a strong structure underpinning Bensonwood companies, decades of know-how, and deep rela- tionships with great custom builders and architects across the country—qualities most of the shiny start-up prefab com- panies don't have. Tedd Benson himself is a name brand and a reliable known quantity. What he understands better than anyone is that to bring costs down for his high-performance components, he needs to ramp production up. "Building one single-family home at a time has its limits in terms of scaling," he says. "And that's one of the benefits of Tektoniks and reaching into multifamily and commercial work. The more we can scale up production, the more that helps us with the supply chain to bring costs down. As we look to scaling the benefits of offsite fabrication, we do need to reach toward standardization. Panelization, 3D components or pods—if we can standard- ize the micro and macro organization of them, then we can really provide the industry broadly with some cost-compet- itive and highly improved building shells and building components." That's not to say Tedd wishes to abandon the highly specific custom work Bensonwood is capable of doing. He thinks of it as research and development that can trickle down through the other companies. "Custom work and offsite fabrication are very compatible," he notes. "In our offsite facilities we have access to CNC machining and other precision tools, so complexity and uniqueness are not an obstacle and, in fact, they're kind of an invitation." Tedd Benson is ramping up when most veteran custom builders might be ready to lighten their load. That's because build- ing well isn't just a passion for him, it's a social justice mission. He's appalled by the prevailing construction standards and lax building codes in this country, and he truly believes we can and should do better. "People are spending their life savings on poorly built houses. We want to make the best possible home available, and to make it more affordable and accessible," he says. "In Europe, prefab is associat- ed with better-quality buildings; they understand factory built is how you get better."—S. Claire Conroy Above: Bensonwood and Unity Homes are capable of building nearly every component of a house, including this kitchen from Unity's Varm platform. Photo: James R. Saloman 20 RESIDENTIALDESIGNMAGA ZINE.COM VOL. 6, 2018 PRO-FILE BUILD

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