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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Page 9 of 75

Prefab's New Boost Fourteen years ago, I gave architect Ray Kappe, FAIA, a lifetime achievement award for his work in residential design. He was 77 at the time, and as sharp and engaged in design as ever. So I wasn't terribly surprised when he asked me if he could bring a young devel- oper to the awards luncheon in his honor—"a guy who wants to work with me on a big project," he said. Sure, I said. That guy was Steve Glenn, founder of the prefab company LivingHomes; and he and Ray did end up collaborating shortly after our luncheon in 2004. Two years later they completed the first LEED Platinum house in the country. The house was Steve's own home in Santa Monica, and he built it as modules in a fac- tory—although it still required a fair amount of construction on-site to finish it out. Ray, a veteran of the '50s merchant housing industry, had been interested in factory-built housing for decades but kept hitting a wall trying to make it work. Factories just couldn't achieve the rigors of architecturally designed houses then and, 50 years later, it was still largely true. Ray and Steve made inroads, however, as did other bright minds. Then the recession hit, stalling many of the best efforts. Prefab housing has limped along since then, never hitting stride as anything more than a niche enterprise—its promise very much unful- filled. The weak link remains, as always, at the factory. The ones capable of fabricating an architect-designed house haven't been able to reach scale to make the business side work, and the ones capable of scale haven't been able to execute reliably on the designs. There are solid signs that's finally starting to change. Katerra, a three-year-old startup focusing on off-site construction, just received $865 million in additional venture capital financing. And Plant Prefab, Steve Glenn's two-year-old manufacturing offshoot of Living- Homes, recently announced an infusion of investment from Amazon's Alex Fund. There's more disruption on the horizon. Last month, Airbnb announced that its innovation lab, Samara, will begin an "initiative to prototype new ways that homes can be designed, built, and shared." In a press release, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia states, "To meet the demands of the future, whether it be climate displacement or rural-urban migration, the home needs to evolve, to think forward." That's the buzz in California. Meanwhile, earlier this year in New Hampshire, Tedd Benson, a custom builder with 45 years of experience, opened a 110,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art production facility for building components. Bensonwood has been a leader in off-site production of high-performance panels, components, and assemblies for years, but now is poised to go big with its knowledge, experience, and production capacity. You can see the new custom home it built with Lake|Flato Architects and Ingrained Woodworking beginning on page 26 of this magazine, and the profile of Tedd and his three companies on page 18. Maybe now the time is finally right for the prefab revolution. S. Claire Conroy Editor-in-Chief EDITOR'S NOTE

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