Monday, January 9, 2012

30 Stories in 15 Days

Yes, a 30-story hotel in China was constructed in but a mere 15-days. Hopefully, with more structural integrity, less corner-cutting than this disaster.


I bring this up due to my high hopes for similar pre-fabricated, modular construction in order to meet the immense housing shortage we face. What?! You say. We have a surplus of 25 million single family homes! You say.

And you'd be right. The deficiency is locational. The majority of the housing glut is in locations deemed to no longer have any real value. Too far from jobs, services, amenities, etc. The city, as a physical entity, grew too big, too fast, aided by sedentary lifestyles and the saturated fat, fast foods of easy lending banking institutions, much like Mr. Creosote:


The shingles and siding material, the copper wiring (if it hasn't already been foraged) is the detritus oozing down the walls. The edges of cities will further erode and contract. Disappear altogether or reorganize into viable clusters. The smear of sprawl but a temporary vestigial residue. We see it today, yet we assume it will last forever. It was there yesterday. It will be there tomorrow. Cities change generation to generation. Urban change needs a time-lapse to visualize it. The cities of today won't meet the needs of the generation tomorrow (in city time). Therefore, the useless will be scrapped and the useful retained, improved.

The city, as a body, is hollowed out, again, much like poor Mr. Creosote post-explosion. Living at the edge is no longer viable for the majority of the population as we return somewhere nearing sanity. With fuel prices surely to rise in perpetuity due to the competing demands of ever increasing population, rising energy usage in the BRICs, and an inability to maintain supply of energy at similarly low cost as was the case for the past century or so, will reinstate the demand for proximity. Being close to things, amenity, jobs, each other.

Lots of supply in areas of low demand. Low supply in areas of high demand (and relatedly, restrictive barriers). Add those two things up and it equals disaster (if we don't act). Or opportunity (if we do).

So back to the city it is. And we'll have to do it fast and furious, ideally with the help of something like Henry Ford's assembly line, except for housing modules. 500 or 600 square feet per module. Functionally adaptable enough to interconnect and expand into 2 or 3 adjacent modules based on your own household's needs. Need 3 bedrooms/3 bathrooms? Purchase (or rent) 3 units, merged together into 1 1500-1800 square foot residence. Need 2? Put two together. Flexibility. Fluidly adaptable to the market. No need for guesswork as to how many studio or 2-bedroom units to build.

I expect this idea to flower someday. There will be an enormous market for it, I suspect. The means of production simply need investment. Oh, and all of the other barriers to infill development have to be ducked, jumped, skirted, or removed altogether as well. And there are many. We have our work cut out for us. Like Mr. Creosote trying to get back in shape.