Skylab Architecture has established itself as one of Portland’s most admired design firms with projects like Doug Fir, the 12th + Alder mixed use project (winner of the top local AIA design award in 2007, the Honor Award), the upcoming Weave building on Burnside, NAU retail stores (also an AIA award winner) the Hoke Residence (made famous as a key location the first “Twilight” movie), and the Departure Lounge atop the Nines Hotel.
Now, the firm headed by Jeff Kovel has become involved with designing…manufactured homes?
Granted these aren’t the trailer-park eyesores of yesteryear or even the nicer if traditional manufactured-home style prevalent today. My brother-in-law in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania selling modular and manufactured homes doesn’t offer anything like what Skylab and partner Method Homes of Seattle have in mind: the HOMB.
Kovel, speaking recently over coffee, said the intent with HOMB is to create well designed single family homes that in the past only the wealthy could afford, “to create an avenue that doesn’t exist right now: to bring architecture to a broader market.”
The modular design of the HOMB, which can be customized and configured in numerous different layouts and design, is based on and built using a series of 100 square foot triangles. Skylab experimented with a variety of different patterns that could be alternatives to the simple box construction of a traditional manufactured home. By erecting the homes on site from these triangular structural pieces, there are countless ways for each client to determine a proper size, layout, and budget. And because these are more than just boxes, there is the chance to embrace more design choices such as double-height living rooms.
“You set your budget, and you build only what you need,” Kovel adds. “Single family home project delivery is flawed, because budgets vary until it’s built. That doesn’t happen with this plan. You’ve eliminated 60 percent of the potential (cost) problem, and you still have this kit of parts to play with. We’re creating a system rather than a single piece that’s designed.”
To keep budgets down (HOMBs sell for approximately $160 per square foot), Kovel and Method worked to reduce what is ordinarily a 16-month building process down to six months. The design-construction partners have also embraced digital production capabilities to construct the chassis of each house, basically creating assembly process instead of measure-and-cut. This allows for greater cost control with fixed building, delivery, and installation expenses. It also affords developers the opportunity to build as they go, reducing risk, and potentially trading a one-size-fits-all for custom building for clients.
The idea is that an entire neighborhood could be constructed of HOMBs, and yet there would not be that stereotypical Levittown ubiquity of house after house that’s alike. Houses could be built to different scales in a HOMB neighborhood, but the houses would fit together despite varying sizes out of shared stylistic cues. It’s endless variety born from very simple initial building forms. “It’s won the battle against the spatial lmits of a traditional approach,” the architect says. “But we also didn’t want you to feel trapped in a triangle.”
HOMBs will also utilize a spectrum of sustainable design and construction, such as FSC-certified wood, choices of high-efficiency radiant or heat-pump heating and cooling. But the most sustainable thing about a HOMB, Kovel says, is the efficiency of the process. “You could build a LEED rated stick-built house and it’s still not very sustainable because of the waste,” he added.
“I’m not naïve about how challenging this is. But I think this could have a broad impact.”