Some of the most fruitful innovation in the AEC industry right now lies in the realm of factory-built buildings. Whether they include experiments with prefabrication, mass-timber construction, or modular components, architects are increasingly working with building assemblies that are fabricated off-site and under controlled conditions. And while some designers work in these modes on a one-off basis, a new crop of technology-focused, end-to-end construction service firms have sprung up that can take a project from idea to finished building all on their own, including construction and fabrication. Established in 2015, Katerra is one of the firms that are shifting how buildings get designed and built in the United States by pioneering a hybrid business model that combines prefabrication with mass-customization. The Menlo Park, California–based company is a relative newcomer in the field, but with over $1.3 billion in projects and an expanding nationwide presence, Katerra is poised to make factory construction a thing for the future. AN’s West editor Antonio Pacheco spoke to Craig Curtis, president of Katerra Architecture, to discuss its business model, examine how the company integrates technology into its workflow, and delve into the firm’s new project types. The Architect’s Newspaper: Can you tell us what Katerra does? Craig Curtis: Katerra is an end-to-end construction and technology service company that applies systemic approaches to remove unnecessary time and costs from building design and construction. Our services include architecture and engineering, interior design, materials supply, construction management and general contracting, and renovation. What are some of Katerra’s short- and long-term goals? Since the company’s founding three years ago, Katerra has accomplished a significant amount: We have more than $1.3 billion in bookings for new construction spanning the multifamily, student and senior housing, hospitality, and commercial office sectors. [During this time] our global team has grown to more than 1,400 employees and we also opened a manufacturing facility in Phoenix and started construction on a mass timber factory in Spokane, Washington. Going forward, we are focused on delivering the projects in our pipeline, bringing our Spokane factory online in early 2019, and continuing to build out additional domestic factories like the one in Phoenix, where we fabricate building components. We will also continue to expand and improve Katerra’s technology platform, which underpins our vertically integrated model. What does it mean to use a “systems approach” with regard to building design and project delivery? Katerra’s model uses technology and end-to-end control throughout all levels of design, development, and construction. By moving from individual project thinking to a systems approach, we deliver greater precision, higher productivity, and improved quality control. With design, we combine product standardization with customization. This provides the efficiency of manufacturing without sacrificing design freedom. Through our global supply chain of curated, high-quality products, we eliminate middlemen, passing savings directly to our clients. We also integrate Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools and computational design with our global supply chain infrastructure. So, plans go directly from design to the factory floor and to the construction site. Materials and products arrive at our construction sites on time and ready to install. As a result, the activity at a Katerra construction site more closely resembles a process of precision-sequenced product assembly than traditional construction. Speaking generally, how much time does Katerra’s business model shave off a project timeline compared to traditional project delivery? In 2018, we are beginning construction on the first series of fully optimized buildings designed by Katerra. This particular building type is a three-story suburban product for workforce housing. We anticipate being able to achieve up to a 40 percent reduction in project schedule for these projects, providing significant benefits to our customers. As we develop similar tools for other market sectors, we anticipate significant schedule reductions, with the percentage dependent on the complexity of the building type. What are some of the innovative technologies Katerra employs from a design, fabrication, or construction point of view? A great example is our use of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID). We add RFID tags to all the components fabricated in our manufacturing factory. These tags are accessible from mobile devices either on the production floor or in the final assembled product at the job site. Each RFID is linked to an archived file showing the entire assembly of the selected component, including video of each step in the manufacturing process. With this RFID technology, enclosed wall panels can be delivered to the job site, allowing local building inspectors and third-party verifiers to perform virtual framing and air sealing inspections. Application of RFID is just one of many ways Katerra is using technology to drive down costs, improve quality, and deliver a superior customer experience.
Posts tagged with "Prefabrication":
Burning Man, a summer festival located in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, is something of an architectural bonanza. Each year, dozens of artistic displays and sculptural forms are erected in Black Rock City, the temporary metropolis that hosts the festival. Temples in the past have included a wide range of designs, from pagoda-inspired structures to Wicker Man-eqsue towers. Galaxia, designed by architect Arthur Mamou-Mani a professor at the University of Westminster and the owner of the fabrication laboratory Fab.Pub, has been selected to serve as Burning Man 2018’s main temple. The temple will be constructed of twenty spiraling timber trusses, crowned with a 3-D-printed mandala. A series of alcoves are formed between the timber trusses, allowing spaces of congregation for attendees. According to the Burning Man Journal, the distance between the timber trusses will be wide enough to facilitate movement to the core of the structure. The Galaxia structure “celebrates hope in the unknown, stars, planets, black holes, the movement uniting us in the swirling galaxies of dreams”–a description fitting for the international designs of the festival as well as the broad scope of its attendance. The architect, Arthur Mamou-Mani, has designed installations in Black Rock City for the last six years. Based in London, Mamou-Mani specializes in digitally designed and fabricated architecture. As reported in the Reno Gazette Journal, the 2018 temple will be pre-fabricated and mostly built off-site as a collaboration between a crew of artists using a range of robotic tools such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotic drill arms. Through this digital fabrication process, Mamou-Mani hopes to reestablish the architect as craftsman, allowing for a closer connection between the design and construction processes. Shipping the interstellar structure will also prove to be quite a feat, requiring the use of flatbed trucks to transport them to the center of Black Rock City. Regardless of the architectural and engineering efforts going into the Galaxia, the structure is nonetheless temporary and will go up in flames on the last night of the festival, in accordance with Burning Man principles.
Virginia Tech students demonstrate a light touch with glass and steel pavilion.The undergraduate architecture students enrolled in Virginia Tech's design/buildLAB begin each academic year with an ambitious goal: to bring a community service project from concept through completion by the end of the spring semester. In addition to the usual budget and time constraints, the 15 students taking part in the course during the 2013-2014 school year faced an additional challenge. Their project, a public pavilion for Clifton Forge Little League in the tiny hamlet of Sharon, Virginia, was entirely lacking in contextual cues. "It was interesting because our previous design-build projects have been downtown, with lots of context," said Keith Zawistowski, who co-founded and co-directs design/buildLAB with his wife, Marie. "Instead, we had a pristine, grassy field with a view of the mountains. We joke that this is our first group of minimalists." The students' understated solution—three geometric volumes unified by the consistent use of a vertical sunscreen—turns the focus back to the pavilion's surroundings with a restrained material palette of concrete, glass, and steel. Design/buildLAB assigned a separate structure to each element of the Sharon Fieldhouse program, nestling the open-air public pavilion between glass boxes containing the restrooms and concessions kitchen. Different roof heights distinguish the spaces, yet a common material vocabulary and their arrangement along a single horizontal axis allows them to be read as a single object. "The students describe the field house as a linear incision through the site," said Zawistowski. "Basically it's just light cut through the green landscape." Because Sharon Fieldhouse is intended for seasonal use, the students focused on maximizing environmental performance for the warmer months of the year. "Everything's about cooling and ventilation," said Zawistowski. A no-energy ceiling fan cools the kitchen, and tempered laminated white glass helps cut solar gain inside the enclosed areas. "The glass has a translucent quality, so that the spaces are bathed in even light, eliminating the need for electrical lights during the day," explained Zawistowski. The external sunshade, comprising vertical steel plate elements painted white, serves both conceptual and practical ends. "The shade screen is about intimacy and privacy—not just under the open-air pavilion but in the enclosed spaces," said Zawistowski. "The elements vary in density. They're tighter together toward the more private parts of the building." At the same time, larger gaps between the screen's members on the east side of the pavilion welcome in the morning sun, while to the west the steel bars draw together to provide afternoon shade. The screen simultaneously functions as skin and structure. "In most cases, the sunshade is tacked on. In this case it's part and parcel of the architecture," observed Zawistowski. Wider steel bars take the weight of the building's roof, and help conceal downspouts. "Everything is hidden there in the screen," said Zawistowski. "We brought a new group of students to the field house and asked them if they could figure out how rainwater could get off the roof. They didn't know." The students prefabricated portions of the pavilion at Virginia Tech's Blacksburg campus, panelizing the screen members and roofing. "One thing that bothers us in design-build education is that multiple generations tend to work on one project," said Zawistowski. "It's important for us that the same group sees the implications of what they design, so we rely really heavily on prefabrication." On campus, he added, students are able to take full advantage of the university's resources. Once on site in Sharon, the students completed assembly in just a couple of weeks. Given the fact that his students conceived of, fundraised for, programmed, planned, designed, and built Sharon Fieldhouse in less than ten months, it's no surprise that Zawistowski refers to the supernatural when he talks about the project. But when he brings up hocus-pocus, it is as much about the pavilion's aesthetic impression as it is about the speed with which it was brought into being. "We say that it's put together with magic," he mused. "All the connections are hidden—everything's just light and shadow."
Modular self-shading system delivers budget-friendly environmental performance.Tapped to design the facade for the HUB-1 office building at Karle Town Centre in Bangalore, India, New York–based Merge Studio faced a two-pronged challenge: crafting an efficient envelope that would beat the heat without breaking the developer's budget. Moreover, the architects (whose role later expanded to include landscape and public space design) aspired to lend the twelve-story tower, the first in the 3.6 million-square-foot SEZ development, an iconic appearance. "The idea was that we bring together the aesthetics of the facade and make it performative as well," explained Merge founder and advisor Varun Kohli. Despite financial constraints dictated by India's competitive development market, Merge delivered, designing a modular facade comprising metal and glass "waves" that cut solar gain while allowing light and air to penetrate the interior. Solar analysis helped dictate Merge's overall strategy for the building envelope. "In this climate, the maximum impact in terms of heat loads happens through direct radiation, as opposed to conductive heat transfers, which meant that the shading aspect was most important," said Kohli. To lower costs, the architects came up with the idea of a modular, self-shading system in which successive "waves," oriented vertically, shade adjacent glazing. They also streamlined construction through a combination of a minimal material palette and off-site prefabrication. Though Merge had to special-order 1.5-meter Alubond panels, "everything else was fairly simple," said Kohli. "We made sure that there's no glazing where the aluminum panels curve." Mumbai's SP Fab manufactured and installed the facade, splitting each "wave" into three prefabricated pieces that were then trucked to the site and hooked on. HUB-1's glazing was carefully plotted according to the solar studies, with windows decreasing in size on the tower's upper levels. The architects also reduced the window-to-wall ratio on the east- and west-facing sides of the building. They selected double-glazed windows with a low-e coating from St. Gobain India. "It's one of the few buildings using the most high performance glass available in the country," noted Kohli. "It was a careful selection of [performance] strategies." Ventilation is provided by operable vertical slot windows between the crest of each "wave" and the adjacent panel. "Studies showed that we would be able to grab more air through those because of turbulence as it moves around the surface," said Kohli. Some of Merge's initial hopes for improved environmental performance were quashed by the financial reality on the ground. "Obviously, we made a number of compromises along the way," said Kohli. "But I think we can still prove that we were able to save energy in the range of 15-16 percent due to the facade alone." The building as a whole, which will be complete this spring, is targeting LEED Gold certification. Kohli also noted the self-shading system's potential, given a different set of circumstances. "When we first started developing this, we had enough variables that we could really manipulate the facade in response to the environment; the curves could be larger or smaller, and other variables," said Kohli. "But given the fact that we're designing in a market that's very tough financially, we had to really dumb it down. There's quite a bit of [room to explore]."
A new international airport for Mexico City won't just fix the problems of its predecessor—which typically delays planes because the two runways were built too close together—it will be unique in its efficient expansive single enclosure, according to its architects, Foster + Partners and FR-EE. Foster and FR-EE were announced as the winners of a design competition last Tuesday, in which all the finalists had worked with local design talent. Mexico City-based FR-EE's founder Fernando Romero is married to Soumaya Slim, a daughter of Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim. The new airport, which aims to become the busiest in Latin America, has received a $9.17 billion pledge, partly in public land from President Enrique Peña Nieto. The government will finance its early construction, issuing bonds for later stages of development. Officials estimate Mexico will receive $19.6 billion in additional tourism revenue through 2040 as a result of the new airport. It will accommodate more than 100 million annual passengers. At more than 6 million square feet, the new airport will be one of the world's largest. It's also labeling itself the most sustainable. While still a complex committed to promoting air travel, a substantial contributor to global emissions of carbon dioxide, its layout is intended to be entirely walkable and won't need heating or air conditioning for most of the year. Foster + Partner's website said the project will be LEED Platinum:
The entire building is serviced from beneath, freeing the roof of ducts and pipes and revealing the environmental skin. This hardworking structure harnesses the power of the sun, collects rainwater, provides shading, directs daylight and enables views—all while achieving a high performance envelope that meets high thermal and acoustic standards.Organized around a single massive enclosure, the airport weaves cavernous, naturally ventilated spaces around an organic "X" shape that appears in plan like a cross section of DNA. The lightweight, pre-fab structure will open its first three runways by 2020. Another three runways, set to open by 2050, will quadruple the airport's current capacity. Mexico City's current airport, Benito Juárez International, will eventually be closed and rehabbed into a commercial development and public park. The design competition that preceded this week's unveiling drew high-profile names, including Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, and Pascall+Watson. Mexican-American architect and partner at JAHN, Francisco Gonzalez-Pulido, also submitted a design to the competition, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He teamed up with local designers Francisco Lopez-Guerra of LOGUER and Alonso de Garay of ADG for the airport, whose form evokes both flight and traditional Mexican art. A pyramidal arrangement of structural white "umbrellas" transmit light while shielding occupants from the hot Mexican sun.
Dynamic steel and PVDF structures shelter campers in style.In South Korea, glamping—or “glamorous camping”—is all the rage. The practice combines conventional camping’s affinity for the outdoors with hotel amenities, including comfortable bedding and fine food. Seoul firm ArchiWorkshop’s prefabricated, semi-permanent glamping structures are a design-minded twist on the traditional platform tent. “We [set out to] create a glamping [tent] that gives people a chance to experience nature very close, while also providing a uniquely designed architectural experience,” said partner Hee Jun Sim. “There are many glamping sites in Korea, but they’re actually not so high-end. We were able to bring up the level of glamping in Korea.” ArchiWorkshop designed two models of glamping tents. The Stacking Doughnut is, as the name suggests, circular, with a wedge-shaped deck between the bedroom and living room. “We put the donuts at different angles, stacked them . . . and simply connected the lines. This line became the structure,” explained Sim. “The basic idea was very simple, but in the end the shape was very dynamic.” The Modular Flow is a gently oscillating tube, its sleeping and lounging areas separated by an interior partition. The shape was created from a series of identical modules lined up back-to-front to produce the curve. Both models feature a white, double-layer PVDF membrane stretched over a stainless steel frame. The decks are built of wood, while the interior floors are carpeted in a cream-colored textile flooring product from Sweden. Sim and partner Su Jeong Park “used every possible tool” to design the glamping units. They started with hand sketches, then moved to physical models. “The model wasn’t so simple to make because it was a strong shape [without] straight or fixed walls,” said Sim. Once they had determined a rough form, they bounced among multiple computer programs—including AutoCAD, Rhino, and 3ds Max—to refine the design and create shop drawings. Sim and Park used MPanel to generate the membrane surface. Dong-A System prefabricated the glamping tents off site, laser cutting the components of the steel frame before welding them together. “Because every part of the shape is connected, it had to be super-precise, or the end form would [not be] straight,” said Sim. On site, the structures were simply bolted into place. ArchiWorkshop built eight glamping structures on spec on a site in South Korea. “We actually used the whole site as a test site, to show the world, ‘Hello, we are [here],’” said Sim. The architects are open to adapting the designs to suit different climates or cultures. “What we designed on the test site is very Asian or Korean, a poetic kind of shape, but I think different countries have different clients with different needs,” explained Sim. While Sim acknowledges that there are a number of luxury tents already on the market, he is not concerned. “We had a bit of a late start,” he said, “but we . . . have a different concept with a different kind of approach to the tent.” In the meantime, the challenge of designing outside the box has been its own reward. “We love designing buildings,” said Sim, “but this kind of different structural project is also very refreshing for architects.”
With one location in Midtown East and another in Murray Hill, Pod Hotel is planning to build a third outpost in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Capital New York reported. The hip hotel chain has hired prominent prefab proponents Garrison Architects to design their newest location, which will be built using modular construction. According to Curbed, the proposed mixed-use development will be located on a 100,000 square foot site at the corner of Driggs Avenue and North 4th Street and include over 200 guest rooms, as well as retail, a restaurant and bar, roof garden, roof terrace bar and a series of courtyards. For a faster, greener, and cheaper construction process, Garrison Architects plans to piece together the 50-foot-tall hotel using pre-fabricated, 10-foot-by-30-foot components that contain two rooms and a corridor. If these pre-fab plans follow though, it would join two other recent Garrison projects, a disaster housing prototype on Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and acclaimed lifeguard facilities out on Rockaway Beach in Queens.
On Wednesday, Forest City Ratner made it official: the world's tallest prefabricated building will be coming to Brooklyn with a groundbreaking date set for December 18. As AN outlined in our recent feature on Atlantic Yards, the SHoP Architects-designed B2 Tower will climb, modular unit by modular unit, 32 stories on a slender wedge-shaped parcel adjacent to the new Barclays Center on the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street. Renderings released with the groundbreaking announcement also revealed design revisions to the B2 Tower since it was unveiled in November 2011, and Chris Sharples, principal at SHoP, told AN what's new. The B2 Tower's massing remains the same as before, conforming to strict guidelines for setbacks mandated by the Empire State Development Corporation, but the facade treatments for each of the three massing types in the building have been refined. "When we first started, we were doing a conventional design," Sharples noted. "We decided to move away from emphasizing the frames or boxes. It doesn't have to look like a modular building." The red mass, nicknamed "the wedge" in SHoP's offices, has been updated to de-emphasize the repetition of modular units. Previously, the facade was comprised of a rigid grid of charcoal-colored rectangles forming deep reveals with red accents."There's still relief, the red L-frames project out from the charcoal," Sharples said. "It's a bit more subtle." The new arrangement creates a series of variegated vertical stripes, helping to create a singular unit rather than a stack of boxes. Similarly on the top-most mass, the grid was softened. "At the top, we emphasized the bevel with pewter gray and silver gray," Sharples noted. The slight color variation helps to emphasize shadow on the facade and unify the mass. ShoP also refined the cladding on the third mass, with a skin of anodized aluminum perforated panels, creating an intricate play of light on the structure. Set back, one final facade—"the glue that brings all three volumes together"—will feature black glass. Sharples noted that prefabrication is a dynamic process. "As we go into production, we'll evolve even further like we did at the arena." Each of the 930 prefabricated modules—called "mods"—will be manufactured at the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard, part of a collaboration between Forest City and construction company Skanska, where controlled conditions will speed construction times. Each mod will arrive at the construction site fully assembled with all interior finishes and appliances installed. Up to three mods, measuring nearly 400 square feet, will make up each apartment. SHoP has designed the mods with hinged panels on the exterior that can fold down to cover joints during installation. Sharples said these "mate lines" present a unique challenge with prefabricated design and will be some of the only finish work construction to take place on site. On the interior of the units, he noted, walls where two mods are joined will appear slightly thicker than traditional wall construction. When complete, the B2 Tower will house 363 residential units over retail space and will feature roof terraces, indoor bike storage, common areas, and even a yoga studio. Developers are anticipating an opening in 2014.