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Interview: Resolution: 4 Architecture

In July 2006 we spoke to Joseph Tanney AIA of Resolution: 4 Architecture

Go to the Resolution: 4 Architecture Status Page

fpf Resolution: 4 Architecture won an Innovation in Housing Design award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 2006 for your modern modular methodology. Can you tell us about your approach to design and the importance you place on "diversity within modularity"

Robert Luntz AIA and
Joseph Tanney AIA
of Resolution: 4 Architecture
Our design approach has been about developing a system, or a methodology of design, something we call the modern modular. It is focused on leveraging existing methods of prefabrication and is based on conceptual building blocks we call "modules of use". This "thinking within the box" is what the AIA AWARD committee identified as "diversity within modularity." It is very important to us that our designs respond specifically to each client, site, program, and budget. Our modern modular system allows us this flexibility.
fpf Your homes are based on timber frame modular systems. What are your views on
the sustainability of timber and other materials you use?
JT   The majority of modular manufacturers utilize conventional wood framing and platform construction in a factory environment. The systematic methods and assembly-line standards maximize material efficiency, thus reducing the amount of lumber and labor used for each project. In addition, most of our projects now employ engineered lumber, a stronger and more stable product that uses 60% less wood fiber than solid-sawn joists.

Mountain Retreat.

Prefabrication methods of production almost always use local resources and products, often for economic reasons, which lessen the environmental impact when building a house.  

The true sustainability lies in the efficiency of the factory and the lack of waste. Also wood is a renewal material, and thus, when combined with healthy forest management, represents a sustainable material.

When compared to structural steel framing, wood has a disadvantage in that it is not as easily recycled. But when one looks at the life cycle of wood compared to light gauge steel framing, it is important to note that steel requires metallic zinc for galvanization, generating a number of pollutants, and consuming many natural resources and more energy when produced. In addition, when used for small scale residential construction, one needs to understand the fact that steel is much more conductive of heat, creating a thermal bridge that can, if not detailed properly, affect the energy consumption over the life of the home. So at this time we see wood, when properly harvested, as having a smaller "ecological footprint".

In addition to leveraging exisiting prefabrication methods of delivery, we use a number of sustainable practices and materials in the design of our homes. Most significant is our ability to respond to each site specifically in terms of solar orientation and footprint, maximizing each site's micro-climate. Off-site construction reduces time that construction crews are on site, minimizing the impact on natural ecosystems and decreasing waste deposited on or near the site.

All materials used in our designs are considered. For example, all of the windows we specify are Argon filled low-E glazing; the bamboo floors we specify contain the lowest formaldehyde content in the industry (0.0127pp); adhesives, paints, and finishes through out our homes are all low-VOC products; plumbing fixtures are low flow; and appliances are typically energy star rated. Items such as high-efficiency air-handling units, boilers, and tankless water heaters are common in our homes as well. Something as simple as using dimmers for all lights can increase the life of the bulb by 4x when set at 90%, thus requiring less energy.

We are currently working on several projects with alternative energy sources, specifically photovoltaic solar panels, so we can accomplish net-metering, and geo-thermal, using the earth's thermal mass to cool the home (we're finding that is not as efficient when used for heating). Green roofs are also something we are now incorporating into several projects.

Sustainable practices and use of materials are ongoing investigations for us. We have much to learn in terms of a product's overall environmental impact over the life-cycle of not only the product itself, but also the home in its entirety.

fpf   You have worked with a range of modular fabricators over the past few years. Have you noticed any change in attitude from the modular industry in terms of their perspective on working with architects on innovative dwellings?

Summer Retreat.

We have seen a shift over the last four years, in that manufacturers are now calling on us, asking how they might be able to participate and get in this new game of building a modern modular. As architects trying to find and then convince manufacturers to 'build our stuff', it is important to remember that the modular industry is currently arranged in a manner that they don't see a need for architects.

In the beginning of our research and calling on manufacturers, 8 out of 10 would (politely) tell us to go jump in a lake when we presented our ideas. And once they did understand that they could build our stuff without clogging the assembly line, they couldn't understand why anyone would want to live in something so 'ugly'. But we were able to wedge our foot in the door by getting The Dwell Home built, and since then, we have been fortunate to have built with five different high-end modular manufacturers. Some are starting to see that another potential market, one that is interested in modernism, is emerging. I think that as long as we as architects continue to work within the industry's 'standards', the shift will continue.
fpf   In 2005 you announced a partnership with Empyrean International and Dwell magazine to offer The Dwell Home by Empyrean. Can you tell us how the home you offer with Empyrean differs from your winning entry in The Dwell Home invitational and also the issues involved with reconfiguring your designs for a panelized fabricator.
JT   The Resolution: 4 Architecture Dwell Home by Empyrean is a panelized version of our original prototype that was designed and built as a modular in North Carolina.

The Dwell Home by Empyrean

The panelized method of delivery allows us wider spaces and the ability to offer The Dwell Home to more people in more locations. It differs in that the communal space is 18 ft wide, where as our modular is 16 ft wide, and The Dwell Home is now available in all 50 states and internationally as well.

As part of The Dwell Homes by Empyrean program, we offer modified versions of the Resolution: 4 Architecture Beach House and the Resolution: 4 Architecture Suburban, as standard models that can be purchased directly through Empyrean. We also have a new typology in the works we call The Vessel, designed specifically to leverage Empyrean's panelized method of delivery.
fpf To what extent has your non-Empyrean business been constrained in growth and geographic reach by the lack of suitable modular fabricators?
JT   We have found that the majority of modular manufacturers in the US, that are capable and willing to build a custom and high-end residential product, are located in the northeast, specifically in PA. The further south and west we looked, we found the quantity and quality of modular residential manufacturers began to diminish. So although our modular built efforts have been limited to the east coast, our modular knowledge and experience has grown in many ways because of this focused effort.

In terms of our geographic reach, teaming up with Dwell and Empyrean allows us to deliver our designs internationally. We currently have a number of projects in the works on the west coast and the midwest, and look forward to more opportunities.

fpf   People familiar with your modular work might associate your firm primarily with single family dwellings in bucolic settings. Is this a fair assesment and do you have plans for using prefab with other building types?

Bronx House

East Village Lost Condos
7 story 11 unit steel modular infill project

We are in discussion with several potential clients about using prefab methods for various building types, such as multi-family units. We have designed a seven story 11 unit loft condo project in the East Village, that was to be fabricated by Capsys in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

It's interesting, yes, all of our modern modular work have been free-standing homes in rural or sub-urban settings. Yet the majority of work we have completed since starting our practice in 1990, has been urban and here at home in New York City. That might be starting to change, in that we are currently working on one project that has a foot in each camp, a free-standing modern modular home in New York City, the Bronx Box.
fpf   Thanks for talking to fabprefab Joe, we will continue to follow the work of Resolution: 4 Architecture
JT   Thank you.  

Go to the Resolution: 4 Architecture Status Page

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