By: Aaron Neal
Philadelphia based firm, KieranTimberlake – founded in 1984 by Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake – has helped pushed the notion of research based practice. The firm holds true to their belief that research must be at the foremost thought of the practice of Architecture. By working with multiple experts such as engineers, manufacturers, and fabricators, KieranTimberlake is able to provide innovative design solutions to their clients. Prefabrication is one such solution that the firm has been researching for a while now. Their book, Refabricating Architecture is a testament to their idea that manufacturing methodologies are the future of architecture. To prove this idea, the firm has spent a portion of their revenue into researching and developing new materials, processes, and products that have been implemented into their designs.
One of the firms first dive into prefabrication happened when Yale University was in need for a renovation of their Pierson College Upper Court. The project required an addition of a twenty four bed dormitory located in a site that was very compact. Due to the inaccessible site and time constraints, KieranTimberlake decided to use steel modules to create the building. These prefinished units could then be craned into place using an extensive system of radios and cameras. Another design challenge, was the existing building that it needed to match. A brick veneer exterior was necessary, but finding a way to modulate the bricks proved troublesome. The bricks had to be laid out with gaps left out on purpose so that later the modules could be then stitched together. At the base of each module, there was a recess that added some detailing to the brick façade.
After the project made it through design development, KieranTimberlake performed an in depth cost estimation that compared to the prefabricated method versus a more traditional approach. The findings proved only small reduction of cost occurred with prefabrication, but those just reflected the cost of the actual construction. Other benefits such as the reduced build time, made the modular approach the more viable option. Assembly occurred over spring break when the campus was empty which allowed for early occupancy. When including the revenue generated from this early occupancy, the cost savings became more apparent when compared to a traditional construction timeline. This kind of analysis and research is precisely how this thesis research should end with. Only by truly looking at all the effects of prefabrication can we say that it is the future of architecture and design. Other ideas that can be drawn out of this project, include the brick façade of the building. KieranTimberlake prove that any material can used in modular or prefabricated designs as long as it is designed right. Being able to replicate historic styles could allow for opportunities to use modular design in historic districts.