These pre-fab apartments on Westlake could be really interesting. The article focuses on the affordibility aspect of the units, which cost far less to build than traditional buildings. I wrote a little about them late last year, and I was concerned because the designs I saw at the time were hideous. But the proposed design (warning! huge pdf) is actually attractive, and especially attractive relative to the standard building being thrown up around here. And if this can be built to be affordable to “work-force” renters (those earning between 80~120% of the city’s median income), then I would love to see more of these being built when compared to this areas average beige and green building being thrown up.

What do you think about prefab apartments? Would you live in these?

9 Replies to “Non-Transit Related: Prefab Apartments”

  1. Yowsers! Can you say “Public Safety Building”? I would sure rather live inside the apartments than look at them from the outside.

    The units pictured in the Times article are actually very Bauhaus. If the architect could grasp and use the strengths of this design school they might actually make this a visual success.

    If not, it’s just another pile of instant 1963 on the north slope of Queen Anne.

  2. I like it. Of course I’d much prefer a higher quality finish, but I like the idea of factory houses (in theory, at least).

    Has anyone visited the unit on top of Ranier Square?

  3. “which cost far less to build than traditional buildings”

    Unfortunately this is not true. They are helpful in terms of reduced construction time, which can reduce carrying costs, but on a per square foot, fully installed basis they are basically similar to stick frame. Hopefully the cost wil come down as more manufacturers enter the market.

    Another negative, from a financial perspective, is that the units need courtyards (no interior prefab hallways) and so the efficiency – in terms of area of leasable space to total space – is lower than stsickframe buildings. this would suggest use in zones on large sites, or in places with relatively cheaper land values.

  4. I really like the idea of more, cheaper workforce housing, so I’d really like prefab apartments to work out. I don’t think these are totally awful, either. But the whole thing is unproven — it’ll be interesting to see what they learn in trying to put this together.

    I also wonder how possible it would be to make pre-fab apartments to go on top of existing one-story retail. It would be great if it were easy to do a cheapish retro-fit to add several apartments to our high-quality early-century retail spaces (e.g. along 45th in Wallingford).

    This whole issue does seem relevant to transit, by the way, given the degree to which affordable density is a key driver of transit use.

  5. steve,
    I’ve thought a lot about 45th in Wallingford, though not in the context of pre-fab housing. Each storefront is just 12-25 feet wide, perfect for pedestrian access, and it would be a terrible shame if they were tear those beautiful buildings down.

  6. I’ve seen some very nice units of this type written about in dwell magazine. I included a link to one project; click on my name.

    Cost still seems to be a problem with this developer – they want bidding to start at $140,000 for the prototypes, that’s $290/sq ft for the smaller unit. If that’s even close to what it cost them to make, they’re wasting their time. Either that or they are planning to keep most of the savings as profit.

    Compare: 10 years ago in the heart of Silicon Valley, during the dot-com boom; the builder of my two story, 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath townhouse was able to build for about $100/sq ft (not including land cost). They used pre-cut lumber and slab foundations to trim costs and speed construction. The units were all built to current CA earthquake standards, which means a lot of extra metal to tie it together (which is not done up here, even now).

  7. I agree that the hallway issue is an interesting one, but also like the idea of stacking them a few high and having outside walkways to reach the units.

    As for the cost, I would hope that “affordable” new construction does not start at $290/sf, and bet that they will not cost as much in bulk… otherwise, it just reinforces how cool the new “apartment in a shipping container” is quoted at just over $100/sf.

    Comparing current costs to those 10 years ago, that is pretty much a lost cause. Inflation alone would add about 3% per year (compounded), and in the past few years construction cost escalations have beat inflation by a long shot.

    About a month ago I ate lunch on top of Rainier Square, and basically concluded that these look good as a prototype, and I would invite them into our communities. However, as with anything that can be mass produced, they would get old quickly if they were plopped down everywhere. (This is similar to my view of townhouses, I like the concept greatly, but stamp the same design 500 times and it gets old.)

  8. I think part of the blame for ugliness of townhouses rests on the zoning as well. The current guidelines encourage what I call “miniature mid-rise cul-de-sacs” that have a single driveway and an interior parking courtyard.
    If tall but narrow Brooklyn or San Francisco style rail-houses were encouraged, we’d see a different opinion.

  9. daimajin-

    I like your “rail houses” Freudian typo. In a sense, row houses are rail houses — row house density supports rail well.

    Regarding aesthetics and mass-produced housing: It seems like the older row-houses have worn well in part because they were high-quality to begin with but also because they’ve been well-cared-for since then. Note, for example, that people typically cite Brooklyn ‘s and San Francisco’s townhouses rather than, say, Baltimore’s. I could imagine this extending to modern mass-produced housing too — if these buildings seem high-quality and are cared for well, they’ll be considered aesthetically pleasing, too.

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