Sunday, April 11, 2010

Shipping Container Hospital Building

Architects tamassociati have designed Salam Centre from shipping containers in Soba, Khartoum, Sudan. This uses 90 20 foot containers and 7 40 foot containers. Three 20 foot containers are placed side by side to make two apartments, with bathrooms taking up the rear half of the centre container. The 40 foot containers are used he cafeteria and common areas, with the end walls removed and replaced with glazing.

A steel roof is added over the whole complex along with some bamboo screens to soften the light . The end walls of the cafeteria project out above the sloping ground to provide a more dramatic effect than is usual for such shipping container buildings.

These are not modular building: used containers were delivered to the site and them modified. As a result the architects were not limited by having to design the building for transport. As a result large cuts could be made to open out the space in the apartments and the cafeteria.

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Modular highrise apartment buildings

A modular high rise apartment building is under construction in Melbourne. This uses the "Unitised Building" (UB) system developed by Nonda Katsalidis at Fender Katsalidis Architects. Apartment modules are built with a steel structure and fitted out in an offsite factory and stacked to form a building. This is similar to shipping container apartment buildings, such as Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall at the Australian National University. However, the UB system is not restricted by the size and structural limitations of standard shipping containers and so can be used for larger modules stacked much higher.

The Melbourne building is provisionally named "Little Hero apartments" and is at 16-34 Russell Place (architect Fender Katsalidis). While one of the claimed benefits of the UB system is increased height over the shipping container building limit of six floors, the Melbourne building is eight floors high.

A hybrid system could prove useful for combined commercial/residential buildings, as well as student accommodation. This would use traditional construction techniques or specialised modules for the ground and lower commercial floors of a building and then shipping container modules for the apartments above. This would allow for an eight story building.

This would be equally useful for commercial/residential and a university buildings. Commercial retail spaces as well as teaching and catering in a student building would be difficult to accommodate in the small shipping shipping container sized modules.

The current move from teaching in large purpose designed lecture theatres to "blended" teaching using the Internet and small groups could provide particularly useful for modular buildings. The student accommodation in six floors could be located above dual purpose rooms on the lower floors. These rooms would provide teaching spaces as well as entertainment, with the same computer and video education being used for instruction and entertainment.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Office pod transportable office

OfficePod transportable buildingThe OfficePod looks an appealing design. This is a small prefabricated transportable office, intended to be placed in the backyard of a family home. The building appears to be almost cubical with a 2.1 x 2.1 m floor. The corners have been rounded to make the unit more aesthetically pleasing. However, something based on a 10 foot shipping container 3 x 2.4 x 2.6 (l x w x h) might be more practical.

Most small modular buildings are not aesthetically pleasing. But it should be possible to style a building from standard components which fits in the standard shipping container footprint, but doesn't look like a prison guard house.

The OfficePod has floor to ceiling glass panels and a folding door on the corner. This would be difficult to do using standard modular building components and my not be very practical in places with harsh climate and security needs. Instead panels of stainless steel mesh, as used for security fly screens, could be used. From a distance the mesh has the appearance of a dark tinted window and would give an integrated look, while providing security.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Floating Modular Building

IBA DOCK in the Müggenburger Zollhafen, HamburgThe International Building Exhibition in Hamburg has moved into a new modular floating building: "IBA DOCK" (English Transaltion). The building is made of shipping container sized prefabricated modules. It is not clear if these are actual shipping containers, which would be appropriate, given Hamburg is a major shipping port. The modules are on a a 50 x 26 m concrete pontoon, moored so it can ride over a storm surge. As well as good insulation, the building has a solar powered heat pump to extract heat from the water.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Economic and environmentally sustainability of modular buildings

Brendan Baxter commented on my review of the ANU shipping container apartment building. Brendan questions the economic and environmental sustainability of importing building modules manufactured in China. As he notes, an independent life cycle analysis would be useful. One preliminary analysis from the USA shows modular building reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 5%. Transporting modules from China would increase the CO2 emissions, but not by much, as they are sent by ship, which is relatively efficient.

The Michigan study is for a wooden frame single family dwelling, which is very different from ANU's steel frame 70 apartment block, but some factors are similar. A modular building requires more materials in each module, as they have to be strong enough to be transported. This applies particularly with shipping container modules, which are required to meet railway safety requirements for strength as well as being able to support the weight of five loaded containers on a ship. The result is that a building built from containers is very much stronger than required, with much more steel used than needed for a conventional building. This gives locally made building modules, made for transport by truck, an energy advantage.
A 1,456 ft2 modular home and conventional site built home in Benton Harbor, Michigan are analyzed to examine how the different construction and design methods of two types of housing influence environmental impact over their 50 year life span. The chosen modular home is fabricated by Redman Homes in Topeka, Indiana and transported to the building site. The conventional home is modeled after the modular home in collaboration with Douglas Construction Company. Many assumptions and simplification were made due to data gaps, so results represent preliminary estimates. The total amount of the materials placed in the conventional home is 9% less than the amount of the modular
home because the modular home is framed with larger 2X6 studs and requires additional structural components. The conventional home produces 2.5 times more construction wastes than the modular home. The lesser material consumption of the conventional home is offset by a larger amount of waste generation. The building use phase dominates more than 93% of the life cycle energy consumption and over 95% of the total greenhouse gas emissions for both homes. The total life cycle energy consumption for modular home is 5%
less than the conventional site home. The total global warming potential for the modular home is 5% less than the conventional site built home. The use phase energy consumption and greenhouse gas emission differences are attributed to the expected higher air tightness (0.194 ACH) of the modular home over the conventional home. The conventional home was modeled with 80% lower air tightness (0.35 ACH) than the modular home, which results in 7% more of the natural gas consumption over its service life. The modular home requires additional transportation energy compared to the conventional home for
delivering the fabricated modular home to the site. However, 4~5 days of the modular home’s short fabrication cycle time allows the modular home to significantly reduce the employee’s transportation energy compared to that of the conventional home.

From: Preliminary Life Cycle Analysis of Modular and Conventional Housing in Benton Harbor, Michigan, Doyoon Kim, University of Michigan, 2008
The road transport part of the energy budget for the modules is likely to be higher, where a truck is used. But If transported on land by rail, rather then by road, the energy use would also be low. Also the manufacture of modular buildings benefits from economies of scale. Large shipments of materials to a factory are more efficient than small deliveries to scattered building sites. Of course greater environmental efficiencies could be achieved by using local materials from the site for building, but this is not commonly done in Australia.

Buying imported buildings at the same time as the Government is attempting stimulate the local construction industry is an interesting issue. The building industry has previously not had to face overseas competition, but now has to with modular building. My view is that the government should support the development of an Australian modular building industry which can compete on price and environmental sustainability. Australians should be able to buy locally made modular buildings. Subsidising the building industry is not a viable long term strategy, as subsidies for the car industry have shown. When in Tasmania a few months ago I suggested development of hi-tech wood modular buildings.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Shipping container apartment building looks good

3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesOne of the studio units in the Australian National University Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall was open for inspection, so I went along to have a look. I was expecting something which looked like a stack of containers, but this instead is a modern, elegant and very solid apartment building.

The outside finish and balcony panels had not yet been applied to the building, so the framework of containers was apparent. The joins between the container are being covered to make them appear to be solid columns and beams. The ends of the containers are being filled with coloured glass panels. There is an open welded steel fire stair at one end of the building and a concrete service core at the other end. This sounds very utilisation, but looks much better in reality.

The apartment for inspection was on the ground floor. The first impression, like the building is of solidity: the door is double glazed frosted glass and appears very solid. Next to the door is the access panel to the riser for plumbing (a section has been cut out of the top and bottom of each container to provide easy access for the plumbing). Inside the front door is a small vestibule. There is then the bathroom on the left and a hallway. The bathroom is small but makes good use of the space with a reasonably sized shower. There is then a small kitchen on the left. The kitchen has a single small sink and a very small two plate stove-top in the bench. There is limited cupboard space but a a full size refrigerator. A better option might be to install a smaller bar fridge and put a microwave oven in the space freed up above this. The kitchen is more than adequate with good quality but robust finish.

Next to the kitchen is very small hanging space which might fit one coat and one pair of trousers. While students might not be expected to dress up for the office each day, this seems inadequate (there are coat hooks next to the front door as well). coat hanger is a generous student desk. Perhaps the desk could be smaller to make room for more clothes (with some sort of fold up extension on the desk). Students will be increasingly using online study materials, with less need of desktop space for books.

Next to the desk is a built in bed. The bed looks out on the balcony and with the coloured glass panel installed under the balcony railing will provide a view with privacy. There are large drawers built under the bed and open shelves above, providing most of the storage for the apartment. The wall shelves might have looked better with doors on them., but this would have made the space look smaller.

The bed is fixed and takes up a lot of floor space. It would be tempting to have some sort of folding or sofa bed, but in reality these tend to be left open in everyday use and the mechanisms tend to break. However, perhaps there could be a simple fold down panel to extend the student desk over the bed and some bolsters at the back to make the bed more comfortable to sit on.

A flat screen TV is mounted on an arm on the wall opposite the bed. This can be swung out so the TV can be seen from the bed, kitchen or balcony. This intrudes into the limited space between the bed and wall, making an already narrow space look narrower. I would have preferred the flat screen mounted at the desk, so it could be used as a computer screen with a laptop as well as a TV. However, this would then require lying the other way in bed to see the TV (not that watching TV in bed is a good idea anyway). There may be some other creative solutions to this, such as a small TV attached to the wall above the bed, or a LED/LCD projection unit on the ceiling projecting onto the wall or onto the blind over the window.

At the far end of the apartment is a small balcony. No doubt that these will soon become filled with bicycles and other items, as is common with student accommodation, but it looks a comfortable space to relax and will help shade the apartment from the afternoon sun. In other situations, the coloured glass panels on the balcony might be replaced with perforated metal panels. These would be more robust and could be shaped to allow precise control of the sunlight (admitting it in winter and blocking it in summer) and vision (providing a view for the occupants and privacy).

Quicksmart Homes have made the most of the limitations of the ISO standard forty foot shipping container modules. The apartments still look a little narrow, but livable and stylish. This should do much to dispel the idea that modular buildings are low status, temporary and flimsy constructions.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Shipping container apartment open for inspection in Canberra

3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesOne of the studio units in the Australian National University's new shipping container apartment building is open for inspection by staff, students and members of the ANU community on weekdays between 12-1.30pm. It is at the corner of Dickson and Daley Roads, Acton. This will be known as the Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall and is made from ISO standard forty foot shipping container modules fitted out in China and stacked to form a building. The modules are from Quicksmart Homes

Artist Impression of Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANUThe building is in some ways a realisation of the concept of Le Corbusier, with his Unité d'Habitation. This was intended to be a modular steel frame building, with each apartment a slotted in module, but post-war material restrictions resulted in it being constructed on-site from concrete. With the provision of communal facilities in the building, the Laurus Wing also has some of the social aspects of the Unite d'habitation.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bushfire rated prefabricated Australian house

Happy Haus is a modular house design from Queensland which is intended to mee the requirements of new building standards for bushfire prone areas (AS 3959). The first production model has been installed on Stradbroke Island.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shipping Container Apartment Building in Canberra

Containerised apartment module ready to be lifted into position at ANUThe Australian National University is building Australia's first shipping container apartment building. This ANU Modular Student Accommodation is being constructed at ANU's Canberra campus. This will be known as the Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall and is due to open in 2010. The modules are from Quicksmart Homes.

The building is being made from 75 ISO standard forty foot shipping container modules (in the jargon this is 150 TFUs). These are being stacked five high to make 70 self contained apartments.

The construction is processing at a rapid pace, with modules arriving by truck and being lifted into place by a crane. On the day I took some photos there was only one container on the top level of the building, but by the following day another four apartments had been added.

3D rendering of a modular apartment at Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesThe building has a simple design, with a concrete stairwell at one end and a rectangular stack of containers next to this. The modules come in two basic designs, each using a forty foot container. One design is fitted with a kitchen and bathroom. This is used on its own to make a "Single Studio" apartment. To this can be added a second container with two bedrooms.

Each container has a balcony at each end. These appear to have multiple functions. The balconies provide extra space and shade the apartment from the sun. The balconies also appear to be the method of access to the apartments. In addition, by having the windows and doors recessed inside the balcony, this protects them during transport.

Artist Impression of Laurus Wing, Ursula Hall, ANU by Quicksmart HomesAll the containers are painted a light grey, off-white. The sides are standard ribbed steel (these sides will be hidden in the building). The artists impressions of the building shows coloured panels on the balcony railings, but these panels appear to have yet to be fitted (perhaps to protect them form damage in shipping). If built as per the rendering, the building will look much better than the best known shipping container housing, which is the Dutch Keetwonen project.

The apartments appear to be well appointed. One inclusion which I don't think is needed, is a wall mounted flat screen TV. A better option would be to offer the student a desktop unit which could function as a TV and as their computer monitor.

Prefabricated offices being built at ANUThe ANU is also constructing some offices using more conventional prefabrication techniques. Compared to the shipping container apartments, which show flare and daring, the prefabricated buildings look very dull and detract from the image of the campus.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Concrete prefabricated modules for bushfire homes

Concrete prefabricated modules for replacing homes destroyed by bushfire feature in Architecture Australia magazine (July August 2009). The article "Regrowth Pod" by David O'Brien discusses the reuse of the prefabricated house module designed by 1:1 Architecture "re-Growth Pod". The idea is that the technical services (water, power and drainage) for the house are provided in one concrete module which can be quickly installed and provided initial accommodation, with the rest of the house then being built around this.

While a good idea, the execution of the re-Growth Pod seems to have a few problems. The module is wider than a standard shipping container and therefore could not be transported easily. One wall of the pod is open and so it would not appear to be suitable for use as a bushfire or cyclone refuge. The outside of the module does not appear to have been designed for easy attachment of building components.

There is a web site, but it is so poorly designed it is difficult to access.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Low Power Lights and Solar Systems for Education

Greetings from the DesignBUILD 2009 exhibition which features "Green Building" section at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre in Sydney until 23 May 2009. One product which got my attention was a low cost solar power system from Soanar for $899 (show special). This has a 80 Watt solar panel, controller, 600 Watt 230 Volt inverter and 100 AH sealed lead acid battery. This is enough for a small independent power source for a holiday home or perhaps a one room school.

One issue which such small solar systems bring into focus is the amount of power used. Soanar were also selling low power LED replacements for halogen downlights and LED strips to replace fluorescent strips. However, if you replace halogen and fluorescent lights with LEDs of equal brightness the cost will be high. In many cases there is more light provided than really needed. Frank Harrington from Soanar said they will custom design lighting layouts for industrial and business use. I suggested a 1 Watt down light would be useful where too many down light have been installed (and a dimmer is used). The 1 Watt LEDs are much cheaper and do not require a large heat sink.

Another application where less light is needed is in libraries converting space to learning commons, such as the one University of Canberra Library are building. Libraries need brightly lit areas for reading and particularly university libraries where blurry archival documents may be used. However, a learning commons will mostly use computers. In this environment the general lighting can be much lower and task lighting used. This can save 75% of the energy used in lighting (and as much again in air conditioning power used to take away heat from the lights).

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Web support for Victorian bushfire rebuilding

In response to concern expressed in the media about delays with permission to rebuild after bushfires, some Victorian councils have put in dedicated staff to assist with bushfire related building planning issues. However, what might be more useful is if the state government introduced uniform procedures and a web based approval system to be used by all councils. The one team of helpers could then be used across the state, accessing the system via wireless laptops and smart phones in the field while with the residents. It should then be possible for most permissions to be granted via the system on site in a few minutes. The performance of the councils can also then be monitored, with the time between and application being lodged and approved being reported to the minute, for all councils across the state automatically with daily reports on the Victorian Government web site.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Green Building Exhibition Sydney

The DesignBUILD 2009 exhibition will feature a "Green Building" section at the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre 21 - 23 May 2009. This will display green building products, technologies and have demonstrations. These shows are very good for quickly seeing what is on offer for sustainability in the built environment. It helps to be able to be able to handle the products and talk to the suppliers, not just read a brochure.
Beginning with the Green Building Zone, our green-focus extends to all aspects of this year's show. In 2009 DesignBUILD, aims to help building and construction professionals gain the latest insights into the future direction of the industry.

Green Building will feature in:

* All live-demonstration areas
* The DesignBUILD Professional Development Programs
* EcospecifierTM Pavilion
* Green Building Zone
* Enviroplumber

All Green Building initiatives are supported by ecospecifierTM who aim to help create a more sustainable physical environment by increasing the use of environmentally preferable and healthy products, materials and design processes. ...

Demonstrations begin on the half hour, every hour from 10.30am to 5.00pm (ending 5.30pm Thursday and Friday, and 4.00pm Saturday). ...

The Green Building Zone, Enviroplumber and ecospecifier pavilion are located in Halls 1 & 2. ...

From: Green Building, DesignBUILD 2009.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Housing services modules

Superior Housing Solutions are offering prefabricated services modules for houses. The idea is that your kitchen, bathroom, laundry, storage space and toilet can arrive in one pre-built shipping container size module. This way most of the complicated wiring and plumbing is already done in the factory and the unit just needs to be placed in the building and connecting up. For a minimalist building, there need be no plumbing or electrical wiring, with all of that via the module.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

China Eco Expo

The Chinese government is running an International green building & Sustainable Cities Exposition ("China Eco Expo"), June 18-20, 2009 in Beijing. This is sponsored by the PRC Ministry of Construction and includes a Trade show and Conference. If anyone would like to fly me over I would be happy to speak on green ICT and building.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Architecture for digital prefabrication

September 2008 issue of Architectural Record has a continuing education unit on "Some Assembly Required" on the advantages and challenges of prefabrication with an emphasis on digital tools used in design. This discusses the five demonstration houses for the exhibition Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Unlike the poorly executed web sites about the exhibition by MOMA and by the architects, the AR learning module is a work of clarity.
  1. Cellophane House: Stephen Kieran, FAIA, and James Timberlake, KieranTimberlake Associates KTA; transportable aluminium modules with PET skin,
  2. Digitally Fabricated Housing for New Orleans: MIT developed house of computer cut plywood and high-density polyethylene sheets,
  3. BURST*008: Jeremy Edmiston and Douglas Gauthier; computer cut plywood ribs clad with structural insulated panels,
  4. SYSTEM3: Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf, house designed to be delivered in two shipping containers.
  5. Micro Compact Home (MCH): Richard Hordenand Haack + Höpfner Architects, one container sized home.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Digitally Fabricated Australian Beach Hose In New York

ABC TV this week features Jeremy Edmiston's digitally fabricated "Burst" house in a display at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York. The building is designed on a computer and the each piece is cut by a computer controlled system.

Unfortunately unlike the architecture and the TV report, which is a work of art in itself, the web information about the exhibition by MOMA and by the architects are poorly designed. It may be that art galleries and architects do not understand how to design usable web sites, or simply don't care about usability. As it is I was unable to navigate within the architect's web site and had to use an external search engine to find my way around. To make it harder the designer decided to have the links move around the screen, making them very hard to click on.

See also:



Sitting just off Sixth Avenue, amid the skyscrapers of Manhattan, the beach house is disarmingly simple in appearance. But Burst is a structure on the cutting edge of technology and design.

Its twisting, sculptural form is generated by a computer and was assembled on site from 1,100 laser-cut pieces of plywood.

Architect Jeremy Edmiston says, “There’s no way to arrive at that twisting form easily without the computer …the twisting is about creating the right conditions to take advantage of the cross-ventilation of the site … to take advantage of the heating and the cooling the sun gives us on the site.“

Barry Bergdoll, curator of the Home Delivery exhibition says, “We threw our net incredibly wide.... Burst is just a fantastic piece of architecture … brilliantly formally inventive … intriguing.”

Bergdoll says the beach house has been a real hit with MOMA patrons. “It’s a house which is at the cutting edge of applying the forces of digital fabrication ….. it really is something which you wonder if, historically, people will look back and see as the beginning of something.”

From: New York - Aussie Beach Shack, Reporter: Michael Maher, POSTCARD SERIES 18, EPISODE 15Foreign Correspondent, ABC TV, 07/10/2008

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ecovilla buildings for classrooms

Ecovilla buildingAt Canberra' flower festival, Floriade, I came across an Ecovilla. This is a steel frame building designed for homes and public buildings. It has been used in indigenous communities and would appear suitable for a computer equipped learning centre for such communities.

Construction starts with "mega-anchors" (steel piles driven into the ground), then galvanised steel framework built up. The building is covered with a Tophat curved steel roof. The demonstration building had corrugated steel cladding on the outside and min-corrugated steel on the inside. Usually flat sheeting would be used on the inside for aesthetics, but the min-orb looks good when painted and would provide a very durable finish. The buildings can be made single or two stories high and can be provided with instructions as a kit for local assembly.

It looks feasible to use this system for building classrooms for a learning commons or flexible learning centre. Because the floor is above the ground, it would be easy to add extra wiring underneath for computers.

This is a pre-cut building, rather than a prefabricated one. That is the components are cut to size in a factory, shipped to site as a flat-pack and then assembled on site. The volume of material to be transported this way is far less than prefabricated buildings. The system would lend itself to modular building designs, with a standardised kit of components assembled into different configurations to suit local needs. The system also lends itself to the buildings being easily modified and added to. Local materials can be used to clad the building so it can blend in to the local environment.

The demonstration building had an interesting "Unitank" flat pack water tank. This looks like a giant ice cream tub, being an inverted truncated cone. The tank is transported as flat sheets of steel, then rolled up and assembled on site.

Outside the demonstration building was some corrugated steel which had been perforated into decorative fence. This made me think this would be a good way to make security windows for the Ecovilla, especially if it was equipped as a classroom filled with computers attractive to thieves. Instead of having to fit security screens, a sheet of corrugated steel with holes punched for ventilation could simply be fixed in place at the window.

The building had a solar panel on the roof and LED low power lights inside. There was a composting toilet and a clever shower cubicle made of a curved sheet of the same mini-orb corrugated steel as the walls.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Prefabricated homes as art

Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling by Barry Bergdoll and Peter Christensen "Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling" (by Barry Bergdoll, Peter Christensen, Birkhäuser Basel; 1 edition August 1, 2008) is a book about the history of prefabrication of homes. It approaches the topic from the point of view of architecture as an artistic endeavour. Many of the systems of prefabrication listed appear to have had a commercial and social intention behind them, particularly to bring affordable housing to the masses. But the emphasis is on the artistic aspects of building as sculpture.

The book includes such historic oddities as the "Manning Portable Colonial Cottage for Emigrants", prefabricated in the UK in the 1800s and shipped as a flat pack to Australia. All the components could be lifted by one person and no nailing was required for assembly. One of the buildings, La Trobe’s Cottage, is still standing in Melbourne and is pictured in the book.

One omission from the list of prefabrication systems is Walter Burley Griffin's patented "Knitlock" system of interlocking concrete tiles. A factory was set up in Sydney to produce the system for use at Castlecrag in Sydney. While not a financial success, the system seems to have progressed more than the Textile Block System of Frank Lloyd Wright and deserves to be mentioned. The Knitlock system is described in "The Writings of Walter Burley Griffin" by Professor Dustin Hadley Griffin and an eyewitness account of the blocks being fabricated in Wanda Spathopoulos' "The Crag: Castlecrag 1924-1938". Copies of the drawings from the Knitlock patent are with the National Library of Australia. The first house built, Pholiota, is on the Register of the National Estate, as are seven in total:

Gumnuts 619 Nepean Hwy Frankston, VIC, Australia
Julian St Jefferies House 7 Warwick Ave Surrey Hills, VIC, Australia
Lippincott House 21 Glenard Dr Heidelberg, VIC, Australia
Manyung Recreation Camp 35 Sunnyside Rd Mount Eliza, VIC, Australia (Indicative Place)
Pholiota 23 Glenard Dr Heidelberg, VIC, Australia
The Duncan House 8 The Barbette Castlecrag, NSW, Australia
The House of the Seven Lanterns 4 The Barbette Castlecrag, NSW, Australia (Indicative Place)

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Water Camper

Technus houseboatGerman company Technus make a curious type of manufactured house: a "watercamper" or houseboat. This is a byproduct of a modular system of modular floats developed for jetties. The houseboat is a large platform made out of two rows of floats to form a catamaran, with a caravan attached to the deck. As the floats are modular, this provides separate buoyancy chambers to improve safety. There are tapered floats to form the bow and stern.

Their English language web site does not seem to be working, but you can read a translation from the German.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

ANU Transportable Cafe

ANU Transportable CafeANU's University House is refurbishing their Cellar Bar. While this is closed they have installed a portable building in the Fellows Garden with a cafe in it.

This is a standard modular building, but has been painted in the colors of the surrounding buildings. However, a bit more decoration could have been applied to make it blend in with Canberra Style architecture better.

The coffee maker commented that the little building was nice and warm. Perhaps when it is no linger needed in the garden it could be moved elsewhere.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Relocatable Buildings for Affordable housing

Relocatable Building from OutdoordirectThere are now many options for Modular Low Cost Housing available, . One recent Australian one I noticed are Relocatable Buildings from Outdoor Direct. These are made from shipping container sized modules. They have homes built with between one and four TFEs. An innovation with this system is to add a roof over the modules. This has several advantages:
  1. Rain proofing: modular building have a tendency to leak at the joins. Adding a roof over all the modules removes the need for the joins between them to be water proof.
  2. Extra space: The roof can span a space between the modules creating a useful outdoor living space. This can double the usable size of the building. It can also counter the cramped effect of the narrow shipping container sized modules.
  3. Visual unity: Modular buildings can end up looking like a pile of boxes instead of a home. The one roof over the units visually joins them together. With a pitched roof, this can make the structure look like a traditional building, or a flat roof for a modern effect.
These might be used for ingenious classrooms and housing.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Making housing affordable

The NZ government has issued a request for proposals for research on investment in housing: "Research on institutional investment in residential rental accommodation" (DBH08/03/2, Department of Building and Housing). The issue is that, like Australia, home ownership is declining in New Zealand, making rental housing more important. Like Australia, private companies tend not to invest in rental property, it is mostly private investors with one or two properties or government or non-profit social housing.

The NZ Government want to work out why companies don;t invest and how to encourage them. This research would therefore seem to be applicable to Australia, where the government is considering how to provide tax incentives for such investments.

NZ have done quite a bit of work already in this area, with the Final Report of the House Prices Unit: House Price Increases and Housing in New Zealand , (March 2008), New Zealand Housing Strategy, and Policy proposals for Housing market (Cabinet Minute 1 February 200), Increasing choices and reducing costs in the housing market Cabinet 3 March 2008).

The NZ RFP mentions the Australian Federal Government's National Rental Affordability Scheme. This aims to provide 100,000 new rental properties by tax credits of $6000 a year for 10 years. The provider has to rent the homes at 20 per cent below market rates. State Governments will provide an extra $2000. However, there does not appear to be any research to show if this incentive will produce the desired outcome. So the NZ research could be very useful for Australia.

Open Source Low Cost Housing Proposal

One way to make housing affordable would be to reduce the cost of homes, by building them more efficiently and designing them to use fewer materials. This could be combined with energy efficiency to produce homes which cost less to rent and less to live in. As an example a home which is designed to be space efficient and so is 25% smaller, will cost about 25% less to build and use less energy to heat. Fitting an apartment with a $20 clothes drying racks in the laundry and on the balcony will save about $100 on the cost of a dryer, as well as saving electricity.

The Australian and NZ governments could jointly sponsor "open source" designs for low cost energy efficient housing. The plans could be made available free online and developers encouraged to use them. Local Government could pre-approve the designs to speed construction (or where councils refused to cooperate, state governments could override local planning powers to permit these buildings).

Modular construction techniques could be used to build housing quickly and cheaply. The modules could be clad to blend in with local housing styles and suit the local climate.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Foundations for Modular Buildings

Simualtion of the Halley VI British Antarctic baseModules for the Halley VI British Antarctic base are under construction in Cape Town. This consists of large steel frame units on telescopic legs. The whole base can be adjusted for moving ice. Perhaps something on a smaller scale could be used for domestic modular buildings.

bathroom pod for the Halley VI British Antarctic basePart of the interior of the base is being built using pre-finished bathroom, bedroom and plant room "pods" which are then inserted into the steel frame. The pods are about the size of ISO shipping containers for ease of transport.

The pods are made by Servacomm Redhall Ltd in the UK, who normally make modular public buildings, including for schools.

ISO Twistlock connectorStandard ISO shipping containers have 3 "twistlock" connectors on each of their eight corners. There are an assortment of devices designed to connect multiple containers together using the twistlock connectors together. These could be used to attach a containerized the building to its foundations.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Modules for Indigenous Housing

PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard being constructedThis week the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, announced $48 million to fund welfare reform trials in Cape York. One area identified for support was improved housing. However, this will stretch the available pool of trained tradespeople willing to carry out such work in remote areas. One way around the problem would be to provide pre-built modules.

Prefabricated modules could be mass produced for upgrading the services in remote indigenous housing. The modules could be built in regional centres using local labor and then transported to the communities and used to upgrade existing houses or be built into new houses.

One of the problems to be addressed by the Australian Government's emergency response to the Protection of Aboriginal Children Report is housing. Even if sufficient funding was available to provide housing for remote indigenous communities, qualified trades persons would not be available to build and fit out the houses.

There have been many previous proposals for mass produced factory modular and prefabricated housing. Most of these projects have not been successful due to the stigma surrounding factory housing. In addition the prefabrication does not make major savings as scarce and expensive skilled trades are still needed on site to install water, power and telecommunications facilities in the houses. It is therefore proposed to manufacture a module which provides water, power and telecommunications services for a home. The module can then be transported to a site and installed in a new home, or retrofitted to an old one.

TempoHousing two bedroom two container home

The technical services for a home would take about 9 cubic metres, or about one third of a standard 20 foot ISO shipping container. Rather than build the components into the smallest possible space, where they would need to then be connected to the home by qualified trades people, it is proposed to install them in a building module, providing the rooms where the services are delivered (kitchen and bathroom). In this way the services can be pre-connected to the delivery point. The empty space in the module would be used to transport components which need to be installed outside the building, such as
solar panels or wind generators.

The module could use one of the many available modular building technologies to construct a unit the size of a standard ISO container for ease of transport. The module would be fitted out with a bathroom and kitchen, with fixtures and fittings included. The fit-out would be customized for different regions. Where reliable reticulated water and power are available, the building would equipped for connection.

For remote areas, solar and/or wind power generation and battery storage would be installed. Water would be provided by in-built pumps and a modular water tank transported in the module. At toilet would be installed for sewage/septic, or in dry areas a waterless composting toilet would be used.

Simputer Indian PDAXO-1,$100 Laptop, OLPC or Children's MachineA wireless terrestrial (WiMax/3G) or satellite would be fitted. A web terminal with a rugged dust proof and reinforced screen would be built into the wall of kitchen area, along with a telephone. The computer screen could also be used for TV and monitoring the house systems. The computer systems would use an icon and voice based interface similar to the Simputer, which was designed for Indian villages and the
zoom” interface of the OLPC $100 Children's Machine for education in developing nations.

The module would be sealed against the elements (and rated for use in cyclone areas) and so habitable as a single person standalone building, for temporary accommodation. However, normally it would be built on to an existing home or into a new dwelling. Conventional building techniques or various modular and prefabricated panels could be used for the rest of the building. Because all technical services would be pre-built in the delivered module, local materials, natural timber, rammed earth, adobe and similar materials could be used for the rest of the house by semi-skilled local labor.

Specialized modules could also be produced for community facilities, such as schools, community centers and offices. These would provide more water, power and telecommunications facilities. The module walls could have integral security screens included to both provide protection for the windows during transit, as well as after installation.

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