Is architecture a modular product? Most would agree that the differences between 19th, 20th, and now 21st century design and construction are distinctive and immediately apparent to the trained as well as the untrained eye. The distinctions, in fact, go beyond style and enter another realm, one that examines the evolving role of architecture in the built environment and looks at how it is viewed today rather than 200, 100 or even as little as 10 or 20 years ago.

Architecture is becoming more and more a modular product – and this is a good thing. Viewed, as such, marketing and branding play an increasing role in explaining its purpose to the public, a public that has traditionally seen design as something inaccessible, even foreign and obscure.

Architecture as a Modular Product: How Architects Can Narrow the Gap of Understanding Between the Designer and the Consumer

1. Simplify the technical jargon and process.

There is always a temptation for architects to impose their own design, way of thinking or, even worse, their personal style on the end user.

Writing for Architectural Record, renowned critic Robert Campbell coined the word “ArchiSpeak,” a term that has come to define the self-serving language that architects frequently use when describing their work to clients and the public.

Placing the needs and desires of the client first, before those of the project, helps define a more balanced and workable relationship, one that allows for a greater opportunity for uniqueness by combining the client’s best interests with the creativity of the architect.

Architects tend to design according to their own world view, emphasizing a project’s aesthetic features without fully considering all the components at the beginning of the planning phase. The manufacturing details need to come into play much earlier in the design process, so all the pieces can be put together more quickly and with a complete vision. Rightly applied, design becomes a collection of pieces that work together through different complexities.

It is essential to remember that this redefinition of architecture will never sacrifice aesthetics to practicality. It simply cannot. End-users welcome, even require, beauty. A building or home that serves multiple, even all, pragmatic purposes, but is aesthetically unappealing will never draw. Aesthetics may not answer a tangible or practical need, but it responds to a need as compelling as any.

2. Let go of the Ego and accept that the end user can, and should, become a part of the design process.

Have you ever asked, “Who is architecture really for?” Is it the architect? Is it the end user? Is it the world?

The answer, of course, has to be all three. One’s gut response may be, ‘of course it’s for the end user, the person(s) inhabiting the space.’ Further, the end user can and should be able to work with the design team to specify the sort of design that would best suit his/her needs and tastes.

Does this mean that the architect serves only the consumer?

Not at all.

The architect needs to design for the end-users’ needs in the same way as the painter needs to paint. As W. B. Yeats wrote, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

3. It’s all about human performance and working as a multi-level diversified team.

Humans use only about 10% of their true potential. Better designed buildings, those that optimize efficiency and create a healthier live-work-play environment, lead to far great enjoyment which in turns leads to vastly improved productivity, creativity and performance.

Modular construction is twice as efficient as conventional construction, yet until recently its benefits have been largely ignored or at least under-utilized. To a great extent, this is due to the negative perceptions associated with modular buildings. This dismissive approach cannot endure. As affordability of better buildings becomes increasingly rare, creative solutions are urgently needed.

Housing needs to be scaled just as cars and other products. Mass production, and user experience branded and integrated with technology, are standards that will propel us to the next level of build. A greater level of supplier integration into modular solutions can compete more effectively with traditional, on-site solutions and overcome the negative perceptions of ‘mods.’

Modular “mods”, factory-built indoors, can be completed in a matter of weeks, not months. Mods remove from the equation the typical on-site delays generally caused by the weather. Further, modular products must conform to specific rules, guidelines and building codes that often surpass those of traditional on-site homes.

It will always remain the province, even the responsibility, of the skilled and creative designer to find a means to retain and exult the aesthetic component of the experience. If discovering a way to make ‘mods’ enticing and aesthetic is daunting, then only the most creative talents will rise to meet the challenge of seeing architecture as a modular product.

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