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Modular Homes: The Best Way Forward?

Posted by
on February 06, 2016 at 12:38 PM

We are the here-and-now generation, and whether we populate a busy metropolis or a suburb, we have a problem of housing. Whether it is due to the unavailability of space in a bursting commercial hub, or the lack of means to own a home at the beginning of professional life, or the paucity of time to build a home or any other of the myriad reasons, the demand for quick and easy housing has grown to be really urgent. Governments, builders and designers alike have responded to this need in various places around the world in different ways, one of them being the development of prefabricated modular housing systems. Not only is modular building deemed to be fast, safe, easy to standardise but is also a green construction system which consumes less energy and creates less waste. We take a look at two very similar yet disparate modular housing projects - micro-apartments from NYC and modular homes from Portugal - to try and understand its potential for the future.

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My Micro NY, Manhatten, USA (images 1 - 9)

This was the winning entry at a competition announced by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the adAPT NYC to design, construct and operate a project of tiny affordable homes for 1- and 2-member households  for which there was a great and urgent demand in the commercial hub of downtown Manhatten. My Micro NY is a 9 storey high building of 55 small sized homes located in Manhatten, erected by assembling on site modular units prefabricated in a local industrial facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Being developed by a team composed of Monadnock Development LLC, Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and NARCHITECTS, My Micro NY was to be completed by the end of 2015 but has spilled over into 2016.

To fall in line with the affordability and space constraint requirements the area of these apartments has been restricted to 250 to 370 sq feet using some flexible interior planning. In a first for New York, some city regulation codes like the one which disallows homes less than 400 sq feet in area had to be waived off for this project, demonstrating how the codes have failed to keep up with the changing demographic and the consequently altered housing requirements. 

Each apartment has a kitchenette, washroom, common living and bed area, closet and storage above the 10 feet high ceiling, along with a Juliet balcony attached outside. The building includes common amenities like gym, lounge, terrace, bicycle storage and garden. The façade has been treated in four graduating shades of grey brick in varying textures. The prefabricated modules, composed of steel frames and concrete slabs, are transported to site and bolted into place along with the stairs and elevators, etc. Parameters of quality housing like good lighting and ventilation have been efficiently integrated into the design, as also prefabrication makes it easy to ensure the quality of materials and fixtures used. Mayor Bloomberg hailed the modular system of construction as being faster, less expensive, allowing high level of quality control, reducing waste as well as truck traffic and safer for construction workers. 

A bit deviatory to the New York multi-storeyed experiment resulting from space constraints, Portugal saw a modular housing project in the independent tenement typology that responds primarily to concerns of time taken to build a house, i.e. a quick-n-easy home. Lead by designer Samuel Gonçalves, around 20 companies contributed to building this modular house, in just three days!!

Gomos, Portugal (images 10 - 15)

Every modular unit, called a Gomo, has a shell of concrete and is fitted with the finishing materials, electrification, sanitation and insulation systems, even some fixed furniture. All this production and fitting was done at the prefabrication stage in a factory, after which these Gomos were transported to the site in Arouaca, Portugal to be assembled by simply joining these together in a period of 3 days.

All the individual components of the buildings are produced in a factory environment -- under highly controlled conditions and in accordance with previously tested solutions. This helps to avoid problems that may occur in traditional methods of construction. The layout of the modular home allows for natural ventilation corridors, and the module’s insulation, lighting and climate control together give rise to a building that has low energy consumption. 

The modules have been designed to allow for stages of incremental assemblage, starting with a basic composition that accommodates a living room, 2 bed-rooms, kitchen and washroom. This can be expanded by adding more Gomos to create one or two more bed-rooms and washroom. 

Whatever the typology of the house, a modular system of erection carries the obvious advantage of quick assembly, reduced waste, affordability and efficient space utilisation. The added advantage is the ability to standardise and maintain control over quality. All of these factors are precisely the ones we look for in any housing plan in a developing country like India. A modular system of construction may prove to be the precise fit for a slum rehabilitation building in a metropolis like Mumbai or a middle income housing scheme in any mid-size town. Or, with a rising demographic of very young professionals, every Indian city may require its own quick-n-easy micro home building system. Should we give it a try?

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