credit: Bensonwood/ Greg La Vardera
Tedd Benson is one of the most interesting builders in America; he has been looking at the way houses have been put together for years, and has built a number of homes shown on TreeHugger, including perhaps my favourite of the decade, Kieran Timberlake's Loblolly House, and our Best of Green 2009 Bright Built Barn.
I have also been following architect Greg La Vardera for years as well; the young architect has been experimenting with different forms of construction and pushing the envelope with respect to the way architects work for years.
Tedd Benson has been developing the Open Building System, based on the acknowledgement of the fact that different parts of buildings have different lifespans. A frame can 300 years, while wiring and plumbing might last 30 to fifty, a furnace maybe 15. So he builds his houses so that they can be easily unbuilt, to easy access to the components that might need replacement.
A good example is the electric wiring. Instead of being in the insulation behind the drywall, it is built into the baseboards, which are designed so that they can be removed and the systems upgraded when required. Tedd has automated his building process, using computerized tools to cut his frames and build his panels in his shop, then assembling on site.
Learning from Sweden
Meanwhile, Greg had been studying construction in Sweden. He wrote recently about what he learned:
The Swedes used to build houses much like ours, but in the 1970s they made a uniform effort to completely revise their entire home building industry. The results as you read here was a complete reinvention of nearly every step of the building process to facilitate off-site building. They did not simply start building indoors. They looked at every step, adapted all of the building materials, and revisited the way everything went together so that it worked for off-site building. They changed things to eliminate waste, to make assembly easier and faster, and they invested those savings back into the house to gain more energy efficient construction standards. And they continuously refined these practices, adopting automation and using it to the same ends.
He thinks that it is a lot better than current prefab technology in America, where he picks up on my posts stating that prefab is dead. But he offers an alternative:
My correspondent Scott and I have taken to calling this Modern Methods of Construction, or MMC. It speaks to treating home building as a mature industrial process. After all you can be sure that all of the makers of the components that go into a house, from furnaces to windows, all use the most modern assembly practices in their factories. MMC brings that same intelligence to building houses. And that's what will ultimately deliver choice to modern house buyers. PreFab will never do that for you. PreFab is DEAD. Long Live MMC.
A joint venture seems almost inevitable.
The house Greg has designed for the Alliance isn't flashy. It is designed for simplicity and efficiency; though it is not a Passivhaus, it has a lot of the principles:
-Simple form to minimize heat loss and leaks from jogs and joints;
-Controlled glazing, with deep overhangs to the south and not much anywhere else.
The plans are pretty straightforward too, simple and efficient. Benson intends to apply his construction techniques, and says:
Alliance Series homes will have the advantages of off-site fabrication, where your home arrives in highly finished, panelized sections that we rapidly assemble on your site. And perhaps, best of all, designed into each Alliance Series home is Bensonwood's unique Open-Built approach to home construction, ensuring your house has the flexibility to adapt to your changing needs over time.
This stuff isn't going to grace the pages of Unhappyhipsters, it is not cutting edge design and isn't meant to be. But it is cutting edge thoughtfulness about what needs to go into a house and how you build it.
As I indicated earlier, this should be interesting. More at Bensonwood and La Vardera Architecture Design
More on Bensonwood
The Open Prototype
The Wired Home Goes Green: First Pix of Loblolly House
Bright Built Barn is Net-Zero Energy
More on Greg La Vardera
Click Your Way to Greg Lavardera's Modern Stock Plans
How Much Should Design Cost?
The End of the Road for Modern Prefab? This Just Might Be The Beginning!
Good Architects Selling Good Plans is a Good Thing
How They Build in Sweden: Panellized Prefab