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The New Multifamily Modular

At DBA, now more than ever, we get asked, “What does it take to go modular?” The time­-saving and cost­-saving appeal of “going modular” varies broadly and depends on a variety of factors, which can make or break the potential benefits. Should modular be appropriate for your project needs, here’s an unpacking of the specifics of “going modular” into a set of working strategies that DBA has developed over the years as an innovator of multifamily modular technologies.

DBA has designed over 1,000 units of multifamily modular buildings in a variety of project types and construction types, and our approach is constantly evolving as the industry and technologies mature. The following working strategies were born from our experience in the Bay Area housing market, yet may apply nationally as well.

First, Learn from the Past

Factory-built housing has fascinated architects for nearly a century, despite the fact that very few projects were ever realized. The few that were—such as Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie in 1967—served as aspirational prototypes, but they were unable to fulfill the promises of cost­-effectiveness and faster delivery. Forty years later, a handful of developers and contractors have taken on the risks associated with this “new” product delivery method, with mixed results.

Despite the absence of any modular “silver­ bullet” outcomes, high­-cost construction markets have forced continued interest in pursuing more multifamily modular prototypes across the US, in an effort to circumvent high construction costs and make up for local labor shortages. The lessons gleaned from these new experiments have collectively “moved the needle” closer and closer to making multifamily modular a cost­-effective reality—at least in the hot housing markets of Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and New York City today.

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