Thursday, December 23, 2010

Prefab Architecture by Ryan Smith

A review by an experienced fabricator.

We added another prefab book to our large "prefab" library. I just started reading this new book by Ryan Smith, Director of the University of Utah's Integrated Technology in Architecture Center.

In my view as a partner at a fabrication company with experience on over 1,000 building fabrication projects in 10 countries, I very much wish I could make this book required reading for any architect, builder, or real estate developer even considering prefab.

Click here to read the first chapter, courtesy of John Wiley & Sons. And please comment here or elsewhere on the web to keep the conversation moving forward.

The Swiss and German wood engineers I work with constantly ask me why architects in North America continue to fail to recognize that working with fabricators is the best(some say only) way to cost-effectively build high-performance buildings. When one considers that the majority of the wood-framed buildings constructed to the strict Passivhaus performance standard (25,000+ buildings in total) and the Swiss Minergie standard (20,000+)are fabricated using these same integrated systems, how long can the North American building market remain willfully ignorant of the potential of these proven technologies?

Ryan emphasizes repeatedly throughout the book that designers must collaborate with fabricators and builders from the beginning of a project. Unfortunately this almost never happens. Thank you Ryan for doing what you can to open the conversation.

Another prefab company, Triumph Modular, adds a very supportive review and also confirms our experience that the industry is full of inefficiencies with a lack of early communication among architects, fabricators, and builders being a major problem.

Ryan added a very good and long article/introduction to Randy Deutsch's blog with a lot of great information - but I still highly suggest reading the entire book - prefab is complicated and the "oldest new idea in architecture" has a long history of failure. Randy is a great advocate and prolific blogger and speaker for BIM, IPD and VDC, but I find his blog to be too focused on revit. As a builder/fabricator I am more interested in discussions involving architects, fabricators, and builders discussing process and discussing real projects. I like Revit, we use it everyday, but REVIT=BIM is simply wrong - ask a fabricator, they will make this very clear immediately. And this software = BIM design perspective goes against almost everything in Ryan's book, and in the BIM Handbook, and the BIM guide by Deke Smith of buildingSMART. The building industry very much needs an open conversation among architects, fabricators, and builders to move beyond what Vladimir Bazjanac of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab refers to as the "Convince-Build-Pray" modus operandi. We all have very much to gain by collaborating and nothing to loose except the inefficiencies which continue to hurt our industry. You can also find another extended article at the KA connect website.

I also highly recommend Colin Davies' classic book The Prefabricated Home and for those unwilling or unable to purchase either book, I recommend Harvard student Jonathan Caputo's 87-page research paper on industrialized home building.

And peruse the recent SmartMarket Report from McGraw-Hill on "Prefabrication and Modularization: Increasing Productivity in the Construction Industry." It was released on May 11, 2011.

Now here is a thought-provoking article from the April edition of Metropolitan Mag on "Prefab: The Dream that refused to Die."

It all comes down to the absolute necessity of actually involving fabricators in any substantive discussion of prefab. Now there is a new idea for the design world.

And for designers/architects who believe that collaborating with fabricators will negatively impact or constrain design?!? I refer you to Steve Jobs of Apple and this quote, "I'm as proud of the factory as I am of the computer." Go ahead, argue with Steve about design.

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