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Learning objectives:

On completion of this assessment you should be able to, at an introductory level:

  • Describe and communicate, sustainable environmental, economic, social and cultural issues.
  • Locate, evaluate and synthesise information from a variety of sources using a selected range of academic and professional techniques.
  • Write for specific academic and design industry applications taking into account audience, purpose and context.

In order to move on to determine the focus of your case study, you need to do some broad research into your exemplar and analyse it from a critical perspective. In particular, you need to quickly identify two types of information:

  • The claims to/for sustainability that are made by the designers/developers/manufacturers of the exemplar.
  • The effect and outcomes of the exemplar in the terms of sustainability (ecology, economy, culture). This means, how the project works and if there are any problems or issues arising (conflicts between intention and outcome).
  • Explain how your project relates to it.
  • Explain what, within the foci, is fulfilled by your examplar and what is not using your critical thinking.
  • Identify potential areas for improvement (if relevant).

Your report needs to be framed clearly. Use an introduction, body and conclusion. Use paragraphs to clearly organise your ideas. Use relevant images to support your ideas. Examples on how to structure this assignment will be given.

If you wish to choose your own exemplar, you must email your tutors with: the name of your exemplar, a link to the website corresponding to your chosen exemplar and the reason why you find this project interesting. This will need to be sent to both of your tutors in one common email by Sunday 2rd of April, at the latest. Please note that your exemplar must be approved by your tutors or chosen from the list, the quicker you ask for approval and the quicker you will be able to get started.

Analysis of the universal design prefabs by FabCab

The philosophy of sustainable design is based on creating products in accordance with the principles of ecological, economic, cultural and social continuity. According to the U.S. General Services Administration (2017), sustainable design aims at minimizing use of non-renewable resources, reducing wastes, minimizing negative environmental impacts, and creating productive, healthy and cost-effective products. As stipulated by Elmansy (n.d.), some of sustainable designs principles are: form, function & usability, renewable energy, durable design solutions, materials & recycling, and cost-effective solutions. One of the most efficient strategies of achieving the objectives of sustainable design is innovation (Aston, 2013). Through innovation, it is possible to create environmental friendly, reasonably priced, and socially and culturally acceptable products. Ideas such as recycling and reuse of materials, prefabrication, green building, and use of technological tools or processes such as lean production and building information modelling (BIM) are examples of innovations that have facilitated sustainable design. Today, innovation is driving sustainability and vice versa (Nidumolu, Prahalad and Rangaswami, 2009). This report analyzes the sustainable design aspect of universal design prefabs created by FabCab. The analysis is done based on the following domains: ecology, economy and culture. As stated by Thorp (2007), sustainable design can be used to harmonize natural and human systems thus reducing the negative ecological, economic and cultural impacts of materials and production processes.

FabCab is a Seattle-based company that that provides healthy and sustainable prefab homes for people of all ages and abilities. These prefabs are created based on the seven universal design principles: equitable use, flexibility in use, simple & intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size & space for approach & use (National Disability Authority, 2014). As stated before, this report is analyzed based on the following domains of sustainability: ecology, economy and culture. The chosen foci, which are the most relevant for the case study being analyzed, in ecology, economy and culture domains are invisible materials, borrowing from the future and human needs respectively. The detailed analysis of these foci is as follows

The idea of FabCab starting to create universal design prefabs was driven by desire to bring change using universal design principles. The founder of FabCab, Emory Baldin, identified the need to create these homes when he was working as an architect on housing projects for the elderly. Baldin was saddened when he found that the cold, institutional houses that were built for seniors did not give them the self-esteem and independence they wanted. Baldin teamed up with Maura Parente to create FabCab. Parente was working at a nursing facility but realized that the environment there was unfriendly because of improper house designs. The two conceptualized and developed the idea of universal design prefab houses (Walker, 2010).

FabCab’s universal design prefabs are constructed offsite and assembled onsite (Universal Design Style, 2012). Prefabrication makes it easier to create the homes in a controlled environment thus regulating the quality and quantity of materials used. This also reduces the cost and time used to create the homes. All the materials used are natural, non-toxic and environmental friendly. In addition, these houses are designed to be energy efficient thus reducing their operational costs and the environmental impacts associated with the production, transmission, distribution and use of non-renewable energy.

Ecology – invisible materials

Based on the materials used, the prefabs are categorized into two main groups: TimberCab and ModCab homes. TimberCab homes are made using timber frames, steel roof panels and top quality finishes. The panels and timber frames are pre-cut using advanced technology. The ModCab homes are made using structural insulated panel (SIP) frame, modern gable or shed roof, and high quality interior finishes. These materials are also pre-cut using advanced technology. The timber frames used are 100% free of heart center (FOHC) kiln-dried. The SIPs used are more energy-efficient than conventional walls made with fiberglass insulation. Siding panels are made of fiber-cement. Different entry doors are available including full glass panel doors and Douglas fir. Side doors and windows are made of argon-filled double panel glazing and aluminium cladding. The flooring units are made of porcelain tiles, wool carpet and marmoleum. The technology used to cut and install various elements of the prefabs significantly reduces wastes (FabCab, 2015).

Some of the key features of the prefabs are unmatched interior environment and energy-efficient exterior. Key features of the interior environment are wide doors, natural light, threshold-free showers, flexible floor plans and energy-efficient exterior. The floor plans are also very open and the spaces are wider, giving occupants a more natural feel. A variety of recycled materials have also been used.

In general, these prefabs have used design to change the way healthy and affordable homes can be built instead of focusing on aesthetics only. Most of the materials used are natural, easy to harvest, process, transport and assemble, and are recyclable and can be recycled. Considering all these characteristics, the prefabs relate to invisible materials in a positive way.       

Housing demand keeps on changing among people in different parts of the world due to a wide range of factors such as lifestyle, personal preferences, cost of living, abilities and disabilities, natural disasters, etc. Prefabs by FabCab mainly target the aging population. However, these unique and universal designs appeals to people of all abilities and ages. According to Ortman and Velkoff (2014), the older population (65+ years) in the U.S is estimated reach 83.7 million (as shown in Figure 1 below), which is more than double the estimated older population of 43.1 million in 2012. This trend is similar in most parts of the world. Based on the current statistics and projections, both the niche and wider audiences present very high demand for the universal design prefab houses. It means that these houses have ready market both now and in the future.

Figure 1: U.S. older population from 2012 to 2050

These prefab houses have also been designed and built by considering the decreasing availability of natural materials. Most of the materials used in building the homes are easily available and naturally occurring, such as timber and steel. Currently, the world is facing a problem of natural resource depletion (Jowit, 2008). This means that the cost of houses will continue rising in the future, making it more difficult for people to afford decent housing units. However, this project will be less affected and the prefab houses will remain affordable because the houses are built using natural, locally available and cost-effective materials.

Economy – borrowing from the future

Affordability is another important element of the prefab houses. The building process of these houses is very efficient. The floor plans are fully optimized to ensure that each space is appropriately utilized. The exterior of the houses is energy-efficient, reducing their energy consumption and costs. There are also options of integrating solar (photovoltaic or hot water), green roof, rainwater harvesting systems and geothermal options that will reduce the operational costs of these homes. This is also very important because and in line with the global efforts of promoting use of renewable energy so as to help in resolving the problem of climate change (Union of Concerned Scientists, (n.d.)). The houses are also made more affordable by making use of existing infrastructure such as electrical and plumbing services. All electrical appliances and water fixtures installed in the houses are also resource-efficient. Above all, design and construction of these houses will create many jobs and generate revenue for different companies and countries.

From these considerations, the prefab houses are an affordable option to the niche and wider audiences, and will also have positive economic impacts to many people and the countries.

The fact that universal design prefab houses have been designed to meet the needs of people of all ages and with different abilities cannot be overemphasized. These houses come in different sizes, designs and styles. The standard rooms are a living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, flex room, bath and a porch. These are the fundamental rooms needed by humans in a home.  The houses are also available in different sizes including: 1 bedroom, 1 bath; 2 bedrooms, 1 bath; and 3 bedrooms, 2 baths. Each of the three size categorizes has a different price, allowing people to choose based on their needs and financial capability.

The universal design houses basically comprise of features that make these houses usable by people of all abilities and ages including seniors, people living with disabilities, people using wheelchairs, millennials, or any person. All the spaces of the homes are easily accessible and friendly for everyone. Some of the features that are designed to meet the needs of everyone include: seamless and gradual entry (as shown in Figure 2 below); wider-framed and sliding doors with easy-to-use handles; walk-in showers with easy-to-turn faucets; floating vanities; wall-hung toilets; and easy to access kitchen appliances. In other words, all spaces, appliances and other facilities in these homes are easily accessible by standing people or wheelchair users.

Figure 2: Photo showing gradual and seamless entry of the prefab houses

Safety and health are another important needs for humans and some of the features that have been included in the prefab houses to attain these include grip cover mosaic flooring and anti-bacterial tile finish. The contrasting colors of the kitchen floors, upper cabinets and lower cabinets also adds aesthetic value of the houses, as shown in Figure 3 below. The houses are also built within very short distances to different amenities thus reducing transportation need.

     

Figure 3: Photo showing accessible appliances in the prefab house kitchen

Therefore these universal design prefab houses are meeting one of the human basic needs – shelter. With this, they have a positive cultural impact on people.

Conclusion

This report has critically analyzed the prefab houses by FabCab based on three domains: ecology, economy and culture. The specific foci selected for ecology, economy and culture are invisible materials, borrowing from the future, and human needs. There are three key findings from the analysis done. First, the universal prefabs have used design to change the way healthy and affordable homes can be built. The floor plan designs are very open and all spaces are very wide. Also, most of the materials used are natural, recycled, recyclable, and easy to harvest, process, transport and assemble.  Therefore the prefabs relate to invisible materials in a positive way. Second, the prefab houses are an affordable option to the niche and wider audiences thus they have positive economic impacts to many people and the countries. Third, the universal design prefab houses are meet the basic human need of shelter hence they have a positive cultural impact on people.

References

Aston, A. (2013) Designing for sustainability: what are the challenges behind green materials? [Online] The Guardian. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/designing-sustainability-challenges-green-materials [Accessed April 11, 2017].

Elmansy, R. (n.d.) Principles of Sustainable Design [Online]. Available: https://www.designorate.com/principles-of-sustainable-design/ [Accessed April 11, 2017].

FabCab (2016) TimberCab Information Packet [Online]. Available: https://fabcab.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/TimberCab-information-packet-DECEMBER-2015.pdf [Accessed April 11, 2017].

Jowit, J. (2008) World is facing a natural resource crisis worse than financial crunch [Online]. Available: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/oct/29/climatechange-endangeredhabitats [Accessed April 11, 2017].

National Disability Authority (2014) The 7 Principles [Online]. Available: https://universaldesign.ie/What-is-Universal-Design/The-7-Principles/ [Accessed April 11, 2017].

Nidumolu, R., Prahalad, C.K. and Rangaswami, M.R. (2009) Why Sustainability Is Now the Key Driver of Innovation [Online]. Available: https://hbr.org/2009/09/why-sustainability-is-now-the-key-driver-of-innovation [Accessed April 11, 2017].   

Ortman, J.M. and Velkoff, V.A. (2014) An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States. Maryland, U.S.: U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau.

Thorpe, A. (2007) The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability: Charting the Conceptual Landscape through Economy, Ecology, and Culture. Washington, D.C., U.S: Island Press, First Edition.

U.S. General Services Administration (2017) Sustainable Design [Online]. Available: https://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104462 [Accessed April 11, 2017].

Union of Concerned Scientists (n.d.) Smart Energy Solutions: Increase Renewable Energy [Online]. Available: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/increase-renewable-energy#.WOzn1fL3bIU [Accessed April 11, 2017].

Universal Design Style (2012) FabCab Universal Design Prefab House [Online]. Available: https://www.universaldesignstyle.com/fabcab-universal-design-prefab-house/ [Accessed April 11, 2017].

Walker, A. (2010) FabCab Builds Universal Design Prefabs for “Aging in Place” [Online]. Available: https://www.fastcodesign.com/1662127/fabcab-builds-universal-design-prefabs-for-aging-in-place [Accessed April 11, 2017].

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"Analysis Of Universal Design Prefabs By FabCab For Sustainability." My Assignment Help, 2021, https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/deb100-design-and-sustainability/conceptual-landscape-through-economy.html.

My Assignment Help (2021) Analysis Of Universal Design Prefabs By FabCab For Sustainability [Online]. Available from: https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/deb100-design-and-sustainability/conceptual-landscape-through-economy.html
[Accessed 28 February 2024].

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