Constructing Consensus: A Collaborative Approach to Design & Production

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Between April 2020 and October 2022, the America at Home Study chronicled changes in consumer attitudes toward home and community due to the pandemic.  Data collected from 10,000 Americans illuminated a collection of historic shifts, inspiring a multidisciplinary team to collaboratively develop a compelling solution: The Picket Fence, an off-site factory production concept home that also serves as a Pro Builder Idea Home. 


From the outset, all stakeholders in The Picket Fence, including the design and factory teams, were aligned with the goal to integrate data-driven design principles with volumetric modular construction techniques.  An intensive, two-day design charrette established that synergy and advanced the basic design concepts for The Picket Fence, such as identifying a target customer—a Millennial demographic called “Trail Blazers”—and digging into design principles derived from The America at Home Study to come up with a plan.

Throughout that process, the project team successfully turned so-called constraints of factory production into opportunities that led to game-changing decisions, such as the creation of two housing units within the home’s footprint. That choice made The Picket Fence more economical for the factory to build and transport and more attainable for people to purchase. What emerged was a 2,007-square-foot townhome with 660-square-foot full studio ADU for an infill lot in Pittsburgh, Penn. 

“It was no isolated achievement to design a home that stays true to the original design intent and fits seamlessly into a particular neighborhood, hits a particular price point, and can be produced with volumetric modular construction,” said Ryan Bish, chief manufacturing officer and general manager of Structural Modular Innovations (SMI) in Strattanville, Pa. 


The collaborative atmosphere from the get-go buffered The Picket Fence from experiencing debilitating disappointments or setbacks in production. “Some sacrifices from the original design and specification level were made along the way to optimize production and maintain the finished home’s affordability, but in the end the final product held true to its design and development intent,” Bish says.

For example, home’s narrow, 16-foot width and 64-foot length made it vulnerable to damage from high winds. If the team followed standard protocols from prescriptive and code-compliant strategies, the solution would have contradicted the health and wellness objectives of the design. Instead, they developed a creative solution by developing a portal frame with a header across the top as a complete structural element to provide sheer resistance against a wind’s lateral force. 

Additionally, the team saved $10,000 by rethinking a few window colors and sizes. Not only is the change minimally apparent, but it’s more aesthetically appealing than the initial vision. Best of all, the cost savings from these optimizations will be passed down to the home’s future owners. 

“Each solution we developed managed to be more gratifying than our original plan,” said Eric Newhouse, vice president of innovation at SMI. “Developing a collaborative process keeps you on the smoothest path forward and it brings the most gratifying results. The Picket Fence is emblematic of a new era in homebuilding where design and production are integrated from the start.”  For builders considering a shift to off-site production, The Picket Fence offers a compelling template for success. With collaboration, it is possible to build homes across many markets that attainably combine wellness-focused design objectives with modern functionality. 



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