Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Look at Yestermorrow Design/Build School's Modular Influence

A article  byJohn Connell, founder of the Yestermorrow D/B School and a practicing architect/builder in Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  His experience with residential and mixed-use modular dates back to the late 80’s.  He managed the design department for Connor Homes llc from 2009-2011.



Since the end of the Great Recession (2008-‘11) “Factory Delivery” has been enjoying unprecedented popularity.  Just mention the word “prefab” in almost any crowd and you will draw interested attention.  Surprisingly, the legacy mod builders are only profiting from about a third of it because they are primarily set up to sell to their traditional market – builders.  What they are missing are two secondary markets that have become overripe – architects and homeowners.

Architects have had a secret love affair with prefab since before Operation Breakthrough (c. 1969), the government funded effort to launch factory delivery across the country.

Most architects have deep respect for the prefabricated concrete homes of Thomas Edison (c. 1912) and the heady innovation of the Ray & Charles Eames homes (c. 1945).  

And architects and builders alike are boggled by the sheer expansiveness of the Sears and Roebuck homes - Sears sold 70,000 kit homes during their 32 years in the kit house business (1908-1940). Aladdin started earlier (1906) and stayed in the game for 75 years (1981), and sold more than 75,000 homes.


Architects, plagued by the well-earned reputation for very expensive homes, have long searched for a way to harness factory economies to high design.  Such an architectural philosopher’s stone has proved elusive largely because the factories have not adequately embraced the architecture marketplace.  By this, I mean they have not educated the architecture community.

Many architects could use a primer on even traditional construction, to say nothing of the nuances of factory delivery. In their defense, such creative minds naturally tend toward thinking “outside the box”…. not exactly a formula for success with modulars.  

When they approach a modular factory with their design (created with little or no understanding of the fabrication and delivery process) they are rewarded with a list of Don’ts and Can’ts!

So, at the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, VT, an online curriculum was created to address this situation.  Originally this course was meant to explain the process to homeowners so they could become better informed shoppers but very quickly they found architects, builders and even developers enrolling in the program.



Just to be clear, I should emphasize that there are a lot of new prefab companies that ARE taking on the interest in factory delivery in a fresh educational manner.  But there are many others that still deal only with certified builders.  And among those that do sell to homeowners and architects, the emphasis is to often on selling, not educating.

Yestermorrow discovered that homeowners, architects and even some developers (!) can learn to be efficient and creative within the factory rulebook.  The Yestermorrow approach involves designing a project (in SketchUp) and then shopping it around to the factories within easy shipping reach of the particular student.  

Thus, each student develops relationships with one or more factories.  They learn the possibilities and the limitations of this delivery method. The architects and builders running the program have years of hands-on experience working with a variety of factories so they can help the students navigate their first interactions with any shop. They tell them what to inquire about (and they also tell them when to stop harassing the sales rep!)

By the end of the 10 week program, every student has designed a factory-friendly house and had it cost estimated by at least one factory.  The companies that are willing to work with these fledgling customers usually get one or more sales for their effort. But now these are educated customers with realistic expectations.  They now understand that the well-built modular home is not just faster or less expensive …..it’s better.

Among the many challenges facing the modular building community, perhaps the easiest to overcome is educating our would-be customers.  They aren’t all builders.

Many will never pick up a hammer, but they all want to know more about how to shop for a prefabricated product to meet their needs.  Companies that configure their sales departments to educate architects, homeowners and developers will always outpace those that sell only to their builders.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of this school but will be looking into some of their courses. Funny how some of the best things can go unnoticed. Thank Coach.