Nov 19, 2007

Here's a preview from our forthcoming modular architecture manual, available soon from Kullman Buildings Corporation:

by James Garrison

Industrialization of the building process has remained the great unfulfilled promise of our time. The waves of efficiency increases that have transformed the production of nearly every other product of the last century have had no corollary in the design and construction industry. In fact, a study comparing productivity (measured in contract dollars per work hours) found that since 1964 non-construction productivity has more than doubled whereas the construction industry has experienced a productivity decrease of more than 20%.

We now face a crisis of affordability in the construction industry. As a culture we have largely failed to deliver high-performance and durable buildings at an affordable cost. This has vast societal consequences from homelessness to compromised living standards and the inefficient use of resources.

To walk onto a construction site today is to be surrounded by disorder. To manage a contemporary construction project is to be overwhelmed by weather, uncooperative or overly-scheduled subcontractors, lack of accountability, and poor craftsmanship. Even the most experienced client understands that schedule and cost projections are likely to be in continuous flux. To a very real extent we build the same way today that we did thousands of years ago: by assembling materials and men at a site and figuring things out as we proceed.

Over the course of the twentieth century there have been many attempts to bring industrialized building systems to market. Nearly all, with the exception of the mobile home, have failed. Le Corbusier’s “Machine for Living” has not captured our imagination. This may be due to our own inherent conservatism, nostalgia, or the need for individual expression. But why should our buildings be the only place where these sentiments prevail? One could argue that for the most part we express our identities in our homes and buildings just as we do in the purchase of products – we want choice, we appreciate options, and we certainly want value, performance, and reliability.

Compared to a well-run in-situ construction effort, industrialized building offers two primary advantages: predictability and time savings. These are so dramatic that they immediately translate into significant cost advantages. In an industrialized building project there are two construction sites: the field and the factory, operating simultaneously. An industrialized building can be constructed in half the time of a conventional building.

Multiple advantages flow from this time savings; construction financing costs and general conditions are halved, and quality control is much easier to maintain. Compared to a poorly-run in-situ construction effort, the advantages of industrialized building are compounded.

Modular buildings are conventionally understood as an assembly of boxes. There is an inherent logic in this as large modular components allow the greatest degree of completion in the controlled factory environment. The module itself is, however, infinitely variable. It can be formed and combined into endless configurations. Modules can be joined, bridged, stacked, and cantilevered. It can be a component of a hybridized system, used in combination with in-situ construction. For this reason industrialized construction can be seen as a process, that is, a particular way to build rather than a predetermined product or set of components. It is open to architectural expression in the same way any other building system is, and like other systems it has its own logic and potential.

The emergence of the fully industrialized building at this moment is being increasingly facilitated by computer-aided design. Like the contemporary automobile, created and engineered as a virtual object before it is produced, industrialized buildings profit tremendously from integrated computerized design. The factory setting allows the optimization of this technique as fabrication and assembly are rationalized through time motion studies. There is no doubt that the use of CNC fabrication and robotic assembly will create ever greater advantages as industrialized buildings continue to evolve with the application of mass customization techniques by architects.

This book is a manual, describing the procurement, processes, constraints, and possibilities of industrialized modular building. The book defines processes, details, structural concepts and case studies with enough specificity to act as a planning guide. This manual can also be seen as a point of departure for any number of as-of-yet unimagined applications and techniques. This book was prepared at the request of the Kullman Building Corporation, whose dedication to both the potential of industrialized building and the advancement of architecture is exemplary.

Oct 18, 2007

MBI Green

I attended the MBI Green Building Conference in Indianapolis a couple of weeks back. A few thoughts…

Modular construction has some inherent sustainable qualities including: waste reduction, increased job-site recycling, improved working environment, minimizing transportation, reduced site disturbance, building longevity (sometimes), ease of material recovery, facility to incorporate technology, improved thermal performance, greater economic incentive to do energy and thermal modeling, etc. I went to the conference to find out if anyone has quantified any of this stuff….apparently not. I think the mod industry would be wise to do a Life Cycle Assessment of some modular projects and then do the same for equivalent in-situ projects as a point of comparison. The two best resources out there seem to be the Steel Construction Institute and the book from Michele Kaufman Design; however, neither of these are a rigorous formal study.

The impression I got from many of the companies at the conference was that right now they are only willing to make marginal improvements on their otherwise totally unsustainable products. They don’t realize that there is an emerging market for sustainable modular products at the complete other end of the design spectrum. They should really step-up with some top notch sustainable designs.

A few of the good products I discovered at the conference:

Bard – These guys have been the standard for modular HVAC wall units. In the past, their products have not been energy hogs; however, they have totally re-engineered their system working with Lawrence Berkley National Laboratories and I think that the new system should be equal (or maybe even better) than a good system you might find in in-situ construction.

Quantuum Energy Products – They make IP-based HVAC controllers and I must admit I don’t know as much about these guys. We’re ordering their binder to check them out. Check in later.

Mule-Hide – They make roofing products and the same as the above…check in later for more details.

Sep 11, 2007


This guest house was created for families to use while visiting their children at Starr Commonwealth, a nonprofit organization in Michigan. The organization's services range from foster care to residential treatment and in-home counseling programs that help young adults learn to live independently.

The house plan is composed of two diagonal intersecting axes centered around the dining room table as a meeting place for the family. One axis includes the bedrooms of all family members. The other axis, which incorporates the public entry hall and living room, runs through the building in a diagonal pathway which culminates in the expanded volume of the living room and expansive views of the lake beyond.

The design, two volumes connected by a glass enclosure, employs tectonic expression of the modules. Yet the rectilinear module forms are opened up to the outdoors through variations in glass and wall surfaces. A light wood interior is housed within a cor-ten exterior that blends into the colors of the surrounding natural environment. The building is a device that creates new ways of viewing landscape as a vertical slice of nature brought deeply into the volume of the house. Use of glass corners throughout the building, especially in the dining room intersection, creates a blurring between the space inside the house and the space of nature in which it is suspended. An open rooftop deck creates a direct connection with the outdoors, establishing a sense of openness. The fact that the building is cantilevered off the hillside prevents outside viewers from seeing into the house from below, providing complete privacy for the residents.

This building was commissioned by Kullman Buildings Corp in collaboration with Starr Commonwealth as an opportunity for us to implement a new modular technology: a welded, factory-produced frame chassis akin to the trellis frame on a Formula One racing car or Ducati motorcycle. This new technology represents a revolution in modular construction.

More images at

Aug 31, 2007


This high-efficiency product enhances the health of its occupants, reduces energy costs and CO2 emissions, and conserves resources throughout the construction process.

Complete Construction Costs start at $200/sq ft

Plans are fully developed and ready for building department submissions

Available individually or in multiple packages

Each unit includes owner's triplex plus rental income from ground floor duplex apartment

Built to desired specifications of client: width and depth can be adjusted to a variety of sites

Green features include:

Double Roof
Rainscreen Wall
Living Wall
Solar-Generated Ventilation
Energy Star Appliances
Compact Fluorescent Lighting
Recycled Materials
Low VOC Materials
Water Conservation
EcoSmart Fireplace
Condensing Boiler
High-Efficiency Air Conditioning
Enhanced Insulation
Comprehensive Energy Reduction Profile

more images at


This modular house prototype lightly touches the earth, demonstrating new ways in which architecture can reduce our collective ecological footprint and help to minimize the impact of the built environment on nature. It was originally designed for a site where building footprint had to be small due to the presence of nearby wetlands.

This prototype utilizes an ecologically friendly modular design which is fast and easy to built. It saves energy, time, money, and natural resources through a process in which the prefabricated units are created in a factory rather than on-site, allowing site work and building production to then take place simultaneously.

Modular Campus Housing for Pratt Institute

This proposed new residence hall was developed for a modular housing competition at Pratt Institute. The competition was judged by Barry Bergdoll, Kenneth Frampton, Avi Telyas, Tom Hanrahan, and Richard Scher. The other participants were Obra Architecture, Marble Fairbanks, Narofsky Architects, and Peter Gluck and Partners.

We were faced with the challenge of maximizing the number of units within a relatively constrained site and restrictive zoning guidelines. Our solution combines the density of a double-loaded corridor with the openness and environmental benefits of a single-loaded corridor by creating an atrium in the center of the building that lets in sunlight and air. Tectonic shifts in the building's modular form create a network of porches and walkways within this atrium which encourage collaboration and exchange.


This residence hall will extend the mission and character of the Pratt campus, seeding cultural activity within the surrounding community and establishing a clear identity for its students.


The building blurs the boundaries between art and life by creating an interplay between living, exhibition, and performance spaces. A gallery, theater, and lounges at various levels provide collective spaces while a vertical gallery creates individual exhibition space for each apartment.


Through programming, image, and accessibility the new residence hall will establish itself as a destination for both its residents and students from the main campus.


The atrium creates a passage for light and air to flow through the structure, while heliostats on the roof bring light into the center of the building. Multiple sustainability features are made possible by this concept with resulting health, energy savings, and resource conservation benefits.


Introducing a line of modular student residences based upon Garrison Architects' award-winning designs for Bard College Residence Halls. Produced by Kullman Industries of Lebanon, New Jersey, these buildings offer unparalleled design and construction quality and can be delivered with site work under a single contract in as little as six months.

Garrison Architects and Kullman Industries have formed a strategic alliance to produce a new line of manufactured buildings oriented to the needs of college and university clients. This alliance combines the award-winning and socially-responsive architecture of Garrison Architects with the innovative, technologically-advanced building systems of Kullman Industries. Both firms have a long history of successfully building for institutional users. Together they have created SIMPLE, a modular building system designed to remove the uncertainty of the typical building process and dramatically shrink production schedules from inception to occupancy.

These structures are designed with the latest advances in building technology. Sustainability and lasting performance are at the forefront of prefabrication today.

One of the greatest advantages of this product is flexibility. These buildings can be configured to fit any type of campus, from urban to rural by offering the option of constructing individual houses, apartments, or corridor-type dormitories. These buildings are designed to create a socially engaging atmosphere where students can meet, study, and learn together.

It is now possible, by using standard modules, to plan a building in the early spring and have it ready for occupancy by late summer. Design-construction schedules can be as little as six months. These building offer advantages comparable to automobile production, combining tested assembly methods and systems with rapid and predictable scheduling. Both design and construction times are significantly reduced through the use of standardized systems. A major cost and time-saving advantage of prefabricated technology is the ability to undertake site work and building production simultaneously.