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Technological Innovations in an Industrially Designed and Manufactured Modular Housing Concept for Low Energy, Prefabricated, Low-Rise Hybrid-Monocoque, Volumetric Housing Units for Low Income


The objectives set out in the NSF's solicitation focus on five key interdisciplinary areas. Although it would be possible to concentrate on one specific area that demonstrates innovations that are only associated with that area, this would be too similar to earlier solicitations, and would be ineffective and lack relevance. Consistent with PATH objectives, we, however, demonstrate a process of "joinedup- thinking" that addresses the five areas interactively, with a primary focus on:

- Production - a paradigm shift from site to factory;
- Building Enclosures - as stacked monocoque units; and
- Energy and Whole House Design - innovative integration of existing and new technologies.

Through an integrated application of technology, we demonstrate how our own research agenda is proposed to enhance the affordability, constructability, sustainability, and durability of the housing stock generally and in particular for low income housing. We also show how, through the diffusion of our research activities and findings, we will facilitate technology transfer and deployment of successful innovation. As highlighted in this solicitation, a key issue for the housing industry is the fragmentation among various industry stakeholders, with its communication impediments and slow adoption of new housing technologies. Therefore, rather than promoting and/or proposing a new technology for its own sake, we are addressing the problem head-on, by proposing a paradigm shift in how we think about and design for integrating technology in housing and how technology may lead to its successful realization in manufacture, delivery to site, and performance in operation. The overarching objective in our proposal is to demonstrate the advantages of this paradigm shift in design process, integrative technological applications and manufacture towards the greater goal of creating a socially responsible and sustainable society.

Intellectual Merit. Our research is an endeavor in intellectual creativity that is expected to positively impact on society. The project involves interdisciplinary research and design initiatives, as a collaboration between university units, the architectural profession, housing associations, house builder associations and manufacturers, towards the design of whole-life product housing typologies. Our project builds on previous research and prototyping carried out at the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, at the University of Michigan, for a unique prefabricated and transportable single family house (MiSo) that runs on solar energy. Central to the whole-house prefabrication concept are the materials and building services, which are integrated within the building enclosure, similar to the design of automobiles. The enclosure is conceived of as an aggregation that integrates an underlying framework "chassis" to support a series of individual monocoque enclosures which are stacked vertically. Our proposal will research the technological and social implications of how this new paradigm can be developed towards the design, manufacture and assembly of a building in a site specific context which will require a step change in thinking by the industry. Our enquiry and design proposals to support this paradigm shift will also involve graduate and post graduate research students working in design studio with faculty supervisors, on real design solutions.

Broader Impact. The benefits to society are specifically highlighted in this proposal and our research topics demonstrate potentially improved property performance. Our paradigm proposes to shift depressed low income groups towards a progressive home owner society that has more lifestyle choices and serves as a model for creating sustainable communities and the environment. Current housing manufacture exploits a short-sighted, least common denominator market that maximizes profit at the expense of quality. In contrast, we seek to elevate the technological knowledge base in housing design towards a highly efficient energy design and manufacturing approach that uncompromisingly integrates environmental and social sustainability features. This model is intended to act as a catalyst for change that will invigorate new interest in repopulating urban city areas. As an integrated research and design-based project, we will be working within a specific context and as such we will focus the project towards agreed sites situated in the Detroit inner urban area, as a model for repopulating vacant and blighted urban zones. However, the principles of our proposal will be equally relevant to numerous similar sites throughout the United States and the rest of the world. The studentbased design studios will also engage in research across multi-disciplinary boundaries and form part of the outreach program already in existence within our college.

National Science Foundation
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment