Use the following learning objectives
to focus your study while reading this month’s ARCHITECTURAL
RECORD / AIA Continuing Education article.
After reading this article, you
will be able to:
1. Explain why the housing industry
needs to make changes.
2. Discuss new trends in housing research.
3. Describe innovations in the housing industry.
||Photography: Courtesy MIT
MIT researchers are developing a Chassis and Infill component
system (above) to replace conventional or panelized construction.
The emphasis is on high-strength, high-performance, and
lightweight new materials.
Seventy-six million babies were born in North America from
1946 to the end of 1964. Aptly called the Baby Boom Generation,
those surviving in 2030 will be between the ages of 66 and
84 years old, according to the American Association of Retired
Persons (AARP). This will be the largest age-identified demographic
since census takers started counting. Surrendering to the
inevitable, economic and social prognosticators are predicting
gloom for the time when senior baby boomers begin to place
an enormous strain on the health-care system, the economy,
and many commercial and industrial markets.
There is no doubt that this bad news is a looming crisis
for both commodity providers and end users. The housing industry,
which, according to industry analysts, has not kept pace with
other markets, has been the slowest to acknowledge the challenges
it will soon face. Whereas the automotive and electronics
industries, pressured by competition from abroad, have reinvented
their production processes and business models, residential
builders have coasted on time-honored (i.e., unchallenged)
practices. The housing industry both benefits from and is
hampered by lack of competition from abroadand home.
Most of the industry is locally based and produced by small
This is not to say that there have been no improvements.
The industry has responded to the forthcoming shortage by
adopting some methods of prefabrication in the controlled
factory environmentmost commonly, panelized construction
(SIPS, etc.) and modular construction. Both systems reduce
waste and speed the process, but many operationsHVAC
and plumbing systems, window and door installations, and most
finishesstill require conventional, on-site construction
methods. The growing consensus is that these improvements
reflect only incremental progress, not the radical innovations
needed to transform the industry.
To the reader, this static situation might not seem like
the province of architects. After all, 80 percent of so-called
manufactured housing (to distinguish it from custom, architect-designed
homes) does not enjoy the customized services of a design
professional. However, there are growing pockets of institutional,
public, and private researchers and analysts who are convinced
that the problem is not the population, but rather the enormous
gulf between new technologies and the home-building industry,
and that indeed it is, or should be, the responsibility of
the design professions and construction industry.
So convinced are researchers at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology (MIT), that they began a far-reaching investigation
called Changing Places. Comprised of a multidisciplinary
consortium of university departments and private-sector industries
guided by the universitys Department of Architecture
and the renowned MIT Media Lab, the research group is developing
next-generation systems to close the gap between new technology
and housing. House_n: The MIT Home of the Future
is a research initiative within Changing Places that is currently
developing methods to integrate digital and building technologies
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