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Big Ideas Driving Innovative Design

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

By Manny Gonzalez, Builder

Dean Kamen, best known for his invention of the Segway, once observed that, “Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” New technologies such as virtual reality, building information modeling (BIM), and even 3D modeling have allowed the design community to create iconic buildings such as Frank Gehry’s Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles, and Jeanne Gang’s Aqua in Chicago. These technologies can also help architects address old problems, providing enough housing to meet the needs of the country’s continuously growing population.

In a recent Forbes article, “Five Surprising Ways Driverless Cars Will Affect Real Estate,” Gina Michelle identified the five as: 1) Density in major markets will increase; 2) Outlying markets will fill out; 3) Housing turnover will decrease, driving renovations; 4) Construction costs will drop, but so will home price appreciation; and 5) The modern garage will be redefined and repurposed.

During “big idea” charrettes, the KB Home ProjeKt team felt that automotive technology can go beyond those thoughts by completely eliminating private garages, the driveways that lead to them, and the streets that lead to those driveways. It used to be when you were out of town on business, you would head to the rental car counter to pick up your own car. Today, it’s more common just to get on your phone, tap on Uber or another ride-sharing app, and get yourself a ride. In many urban areas today, you also find shared bikes, and scooters, so why not shared neighborhood vehicles?

KTGY’s R+D Agrihood, The Patch, served as a source of inspiration at the design charrette for the KB Home ProjeKt.

Looking 10 to 15 years ahead, the KB Home ProjeKt team envisions an innovative community with autonomous, shared automobiles stored in community garages. The streets that used to serve the homes in a traditional subdivision can be replaced by open space, community gardens, and spaces for socialization. With driveways eliminated and now relocated streets, the front yard setbacks can be eliminated, increasing density by as much as 30% to 50%. Technology can allow us to rethink community and dramatically improve the way most of us have lived since Levittown was built more than half a century ago.

In much the same way, when Jeff Bezos founded Amazon 24 years ago, it was simply an online bookstore with the first sale a book titled, Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought. Today, books can be delivered electronically to your smartphone. But you can also order groceries from Whole Foods on the Amazon Echo in your kitchen and even have packages delivered via drone. In fact, you can control or monitor almost everything in your house with technology. The KB Home ProjeKt incorporates much of that smart home technology as well, and since there is no private garage, a “smart center” houses elements such as the Tesla storage battery and the recycled water monitoring system.

While these technological advances in home building allow new homes to be smart, when you combine that with the advances in materials that go into the home, new construction such as the KB Home ProjeKt can go beyond just net-zero energy and saving natural resources. It can result in a healthy home – a home that contributes to the total wellness of its residents.

Amazon certainly was a game changer in the way people shop for goods, and it is now looking at its own package delivery system to compete with UPS and FedEx. But technology is not only playing a part in the way packages are being delivered to your home, it’s beginning to have an impact on the way your home is going to be delivered to the construction site.

The first KB Home ProjeKt, unveiled at the 2016 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Los Angeles, explored the concept of cartridges, fully contained elements that were manufactured off-site in a plant, delivered to the field, plugged into the foundation, and then connected with panelized walls. This next generation KB Home ProjeKt will go beyond that, using a fully integrated off-site solution (FIOSS) to deliver the home. The major structural elements are manufactured with exacting specifications and tighter tolerances using less labor and creating less waste, and, to the greatest extent possible, the design team utilized a 2-ft-by-2-ft. module to reduce waste even further.

As Kamen also observed, “technology is how we create wealth, how we cure diseases, how we'll build an environment that's sustainable and also gives people the capacity to pull more out of this world and still leave it better than when they found it.” The technology used to design and build the KB Home ProjeKt does exactly that. It creates wealth for the homebuilder by erecting the home in two-thirds the time of conventional construction, requiring about half of the skilled labor on-site, and using about 25% less material.

While the home may not actually cure diseases, integrations of advanced building products and systems will certainly provide a healthy living environment. Those same products and systems also result in more sustainable construction, which helps to protect the environment.

When the KB Home ProjeKt – Where Tomorrow Lives – is completed later this year, it’s the goal of the design team to have it be more than a show house, but rather a concept home that demonstrates how technology is influencing the design process to show builders how they can look at construction differently and leverage more efficiencies in the process.

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