Thursday, March 11, 2010

Modular goes upscale

Mansions go modular as costs,
timeline lure high-end buyers

Washington Post, 3/3/10

"Custom modular -- it sounds like an oxymoron. But elite architects who've seen their business drop in the recession are teaming up with manufacturers across the country...

'Without the recession, nobody would be paying attention,' said
Russell Versaci, a Middleburg architect specializing in farmhouses for wealthy clients who partnered with Haven [Homes] in 2008."

Once the scourge of homebuilding, modular homes have gone upscale. Washington Post writer Lisa Rein tells of a "prefabricated, modular mansion, dropped in from the jib of a crane and set in place like a layer cake" in Bethesda, Maryland.

In a mere 32 hours, the $2.5 million, 7200 sf house was set in place and ready for finishing -- a process that would have taken at least 18 months and cost nearly $400,000 more had the house been built by a crew at the home site.

In addition to time and cost savings, modular building stacks up environmentally, with advantages that include a tighter building envelope made possible by factory construction, increased energy efficiency, and reduced job site waste.

Until the recession, very little had changed in homebuilding since the Middle Ages. Men still trudged up and down ladders, toiled through inclement weather, and waited for parts arriving late.

Given the degree to which technological invention has altered every other facet of life, this stasis seemed counterintuitive. Modular construction has the potential to change homebuilding permanently, with quality and cost advantages achieved by controlled indoor production.

Builders who have been slow to embrace modular construction are gradually coming around, spurred by the need to offer more cost-effective building options to homebuyers. Likewise, homebuyers who never would have considered building modular homes in the past are realizing the real benefits offered by this method of building. Even architects, who have long turned up their noses at the very notion, are seeing the writing on the wall and are designing homes meant to be built in factories.

In the new economy, pragmatism trumps all other considerations.

Above: Currier Farmhouse, right: New Republic Cottage
Pennywise Houses, Russell Versaci Architecture