Modular Architecture Q&A: Project Size vs Economics

Below is the next post, number 3, in the continuing series of prefab/modular Q&A asked by Norman Gray, a graduate student at the New School of Architecture and Design in San Diego, CA and answered by James B. Guthrie, AIA, President of Miletus Group, Inc.

Is there a minimum size for a project to make prefab economically viable?

No. Prefab is a generic concept that has been used to make buildings as small as garden sheds (1 small module) and as large as a 24 story apartment building (500+ large modules). Viability is determined by all the factors that go into making the building, including understanding the supply chain that produces the factory made components and the efficiencies inherent in that chain.

In the case of the garden shed, the sheds are standard designs produced by the hundreds, if not thousands. In the case of the 24 story building, the resulting building is a single architectural structure. One commonality that lead to the economic success in both examples is the use of repetition where repetition made sense. In the case of the garden shed, repetition is probably obvious as each shed is a copy of a singular design. In the example of the 25 story building, the architect cleverly exploited repetition in the layout of the apartments so that very few unique modules were used yet an overall creative architectural solution was achieved.

The fundamental lesson of economic viability here is that if you want to use prefab for a small building, make many replicas of the same building. If you want to use prefab for a large building, make it from many similar components.

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© Miletus Group, Inc. 2011


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