Zac Miles – Designing for the Future

Western Real Estate Business

April 15, 2022

Construction innovation techniques to promote resiliency.

As architects, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to tackle issues that arise within the planning, design and construction industry while also keeping an eye on the future. COVID-19 has exacerbated some perennial issues, such as construction cost, duration and quality control, just as climate change has prioritized the importance of resilient design and adaptability, sustainability and indoor air quality.

Fortunately, recent advances in technology have allowed us to address these demands. Modular construction, mass timber and adaptable parking strategies are among some of the solutions.

Modular construction benefits the environment, project cost and development timelines.

Modular construction has come a long way over the past decade with improvements to the speed and cost of delivery, quality control and a dramatic reduction to on-site disruption. The constructed building is often indistinguishable from an entirely site-built product. Utilizing modular construction methods, including both panelized and volumetric modular systems, can lead to several advantages and benefits.

KTGY-designed 4300 San Pablo in Emeryville, Calif., proposes a solution to the housing and parking needs through construction innovation by leveraging mass timber, modular manufactured units, a vertical parking solution and sustainability. Once complete, the design will exceed the city’s minimum green sustainability targets.

Construction timelines are often optimized with modular construction because the process utilizes repetitive techniques and convenient equipment that results in faster build times. Modular building construction can also coincide with site and foundation work. The modular units — built to meet or exceed the same building codes as site-built structures — are inspected in the factory. This can expedite construction duration since building department field inspections are no longer necessary. Weather delays, which frequently plague site-built projects, no longer negatively affect the schedule when manufacturing occurs in a controlled, indoor environment. This combination of time-saving factors can allow for significant project cost savings.

Factory production is an efficient process that produces very little waste. The exact use of materials, along with precision construction equipment, allows for minimizing material waste while simultaneously protecting building materials. This can even contribute to potential project savings.

Lastly, the advantage of having the majority of the labor force off-site is compelling. A factory setting can often be located in geographic markets where quality labor can be sourced at lower costs than highly impacted labor markets. This results in project savings even when transport costs are considered. The indoor construction environment can further reduce the risk of accidents and injuries as compared to on-site construction methods.

The impact of large on-site construction crews can be felt by the general contractor managing parking, trash and safety…as well as the surrounding neighbors. Minimizing construction disruption, vehicular traffic and safety concerns by performing a majority of the construction off-site can positively impact adjacent neighbors and the community.

Many new companies have entered the modular marketplace, giving developers more delivery options and reliable outcomes. The entire design team can benefit when modular consultants enter the mix. These consultants are brand agnostic and allow the design to progress without being locked into one particular manufacturer.

Designing a modular building is best done from the very beginning, however, as some of the advantages of modular are lost when you shoehorn modular units into an existing design. Namely, more of the project will need to be site-built, which can add to overall development costs.

Crane Hoists a Quick Build Modular Housing UnitHope on Alvarado creatively uses purpose-built steel modules for a modern and affordable transitional housing community that serves LA’s homeless population. The five-story, KTGY-designed community offers studios and one-bedroom apartments on a 0.44-acre site.

Mass Timber: No Longer an Emerging Building Type

Mass timber is a rising star in the building industry and has gained momentum due to recent building code acceptance. From tall timber towers to large-span, open floor plates, mass timber is a compelling option. There is an aesthetic value to wood with its biophilic properties, which creates a relaxed and calming environment. Some of the benefits of modular construction carry over to mass timber, such as factory production and speedy on-site assembly.

Wood sourced from renewal forests gives us a sustainable building product with the lowest carbon footprint of all widely available building materials. Forests sequester carbon, capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Wood is the best choice for lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is the leading cause of climate change. The carbon dioxide that would have gone into the air instead gets trapped in the building material.

The nation’s largest automotive companies have committed to all-electric vehicles in the near future, bringing an end to the omnipresent internal combustion engine. With autonomous cars increasingly gaining attention and rideshare services returning to post-pandemic levels, the anticipated need for parking in the future will be much less than it is today. This will substantially impact how we design buildings. Parking towers are one way to get through this interim stage, and when thoughtfully and flexibly designed, can have use beyond the current moment. A parking tower can be designed into a building to accommodate today’s parking demand. When parking is no longer needed, the tower can be removed (recycled or reused) and replaced with additional residential units. This adaptive approach is forward-thinking and addresses the opportunity to provide additional units of housing down the road.

Our industry continues to face the persistent challenges of exceedingly high project costs, lengthy construction timelines and quality control to build new housing stock. Although these issues are not easily solved overnight, with increasing industry adoption of new technologies — including modular, mass timber and adaptable parking solutions — together we can begin to make progress as we build an abundance of quality residential solutions in a cost-effective, time-efficient manner.