By Aaron Neal
Advancements in technology continually provide new opportunities for virtually every trade, from farming to the tech industry. In building construction, new innovations have, over time, drastically cut down on-site construction time by allowing builders to prefabricate parts before bringing them to the job site. By doing more work in a controlled environment, such as a factory, builders can produce a product that is more accurate, cost efficient, and higher quality. Other industries – the automobile, aviation, and shipbuilding – use such practices to increase their production. This process works by lowering the amount of parts that have to be assembled during the final phase of construction. In the automobile industry for instance, manufacturers create parts by the millions that are then shipped to a final factory where they are assembled into the final product. Having different factories working on different parts at the same time cuts down on the actual time of production. Architecture firm KieranTimberlake, believes that this non-linear approach to design is a necessity for the construction industry to progress. Many industries that have adopted this method have been improving tremendously. Toyota for example, redeveloped their manufacturing process which brought about quicker build time, higher quality parts, and cheaper production costs. All of these factors are why this manufacturing model has become standard in many industries. Kieran and Timberlake’s Refabricating Architecture presents the firm’s research into this development and calls for a reevaluation of design and construction in the building industry.
In the current construction industry, prefabrication is utilized to fabricate many elements of a building. These portions may consist of wall panels, concrete flooring panels, curtain wall systems, stair cases, and many more. Pre-built units like these, reduce the amount of overall parts that need to be assembled on site. Many designers have invented or implemented construction systems that aim to simplify the building assembly process on the site. Modular base construction – where large portions of the building come into the site as prebuilt boxes – has been a popular method used in the housing industry, but usually provides limited building forms. Modular systems have also been conceived of as a steel frame that is then enclosed with panels. This building system allows for more freedom in the design, but becomes just as hard to transport to the site due to the size of one single module. KieranTimberlake have produced a system that uses a prefabricated aluminum frame that is assembled on-site which is then in-filled with floor and wall units. This system has successfully worked to produce both the Loblolly House, and the Cellophane House. Although very successful for a single family residence, the limited structural capabilities of many of the elements of this system may prevent it from being utilized effectively at much larger scales. This thesis research will look at how to take a prefabricated structural system inspired by the one used for the Loblolly and Cellophane House, and apply it to a midrise building. Applying this adapted construction system to a full building design will test the system to see if it can be used universally in other building designs. The final aim of the research will be to show how prefabrication can allow for a system that reduces costs and build time while still allowing for flexible designs.