Archive for Architect Insights

Creative Architects Turn Portable Storage Units Into Sustainable Structures

Portable storage containers are commonly used by construction firms and retail stores to keep materials, equipment and inventory safe from the elements and theft. But around the world, architects, community planners and entrepreneurs are finding new, inventive ways to use portable storage units to create visually stunning places for people to work, eat and live.

Here are some great examples of how storage containers have been reinvented around the world.

Container Cities

Portable storage container city

Photo: CMGLee

Portable storage container city interior

Photo: CMGLee








In 2001, Container City I was built in London’s Trinity Buoy Wharf by Urban Space Management. The project transformed 40’ storage containers into affordable housing and office space in just four days.

The following year, the firm expanded the development with the creatively named Container City II, adding more offices and several colorful bridges that connect it to Container City I.

Ice Cream Parlor in a Can

In San Francisco’s Hayes Valley, Smitten Ice Cream put a new spin on the traditional ice cream parlor using a 40’ storage container. Builders sliced the container in half and Read more

Top 50 Tech Firms for Construction

Top tech firms for constructionThe secret’s out; construction is going high-tech. From mobile apps that empower project managers to cloud-based collaboration tools to the widely used BIM, there’s no shortage of new technology for architects, engineers and construction professionals.

This increasing adoption of new technologies has spurned a bevy of both new and tenured tech firms to develop the next generation of intelligent tools for construction. Yesterday, the editors at released their list of the top 50 most influential construction technology providers. It’s a powerful statement about where construction is headed. Here’s a peek at the top 10.

  1. AboutTime Technologies, Payson, UT – Product: Mobile resource management
  2. Aconex, San Bruno, CA – Product: Online project collaboration Read more

There’s a Construction App for That

Best iPhone apps for constructionApple’s iPhone 5s was recently named the best smart phone for construction industry professionals by Equipment It’s not the biggest, the most rugged, or the cheapest. Despite its faults, the iPhone still has far more readily available apps that make construction pros smarter, more efficient and more effective on the job. Add a beefy case and the right app and you have a powerful tool that goes wherever you do, including the jobsite.

App Appeal

Construction apps can provide the developer, project manager, and even site foreman a wealth of real-time resources that make every job easier. From apps that monitor project bids to finger-assisted CAD drawing to calculating architectural formulas, the number of available construction-specific apps is currently in the thousands and growing.

Best Apps for Construction

The best app for you depends on your job responsibilities, personal preferences and technical aptitude. Here are a few of our favorite free apps you may find useful: Read more

5 Reasons to Consider In-Factory Construction

In-factory modular constructionMost people know that in-factory construction is faster than traditional, site-built construction. But there are several more advantages to in-factory building. Here are a few that may impact your decision on where to build.

1. Precision Assembly

The repeatable nature of in-factory construction allows builders to continuously improve equipment and processes that cannot be reproduced onsite. Cuts and connections are practiced and confirmed accurate.

As the building proceeds through the assembly line, frequent checks confirm strict adherence to specifications. Components that fail to meet specifications are corrected Read more

The Next Generation of Architects Find Innovation in Modular

Some of the most innovative young minds in architecture are finding inspiration in modular construction. That’s one lesson learned from U.S. and China Solar Decathalons, where the winners used the power of modular to bring their projects to life.

Two Competitions, One Solution

Modular building innovation in China Solar Decathalon

In China’s first-ever Solar Decathlon, Asia-Pacific teams placed first and second over 19 competitors by applying modular construction to solar applications. The first-place team (from Australia’s University of Wollongong) used off-the-shelf solutions for the exterior of their solar-powered home. The second-place students (from South China University of Technology) used native materials like sugar cane and bamboo to create insulated wall panels. Read more

Major Milestones in Modular Construction History

Modular building is anything but new. Modular construction dates back to the early 20th century, gaining traction between World War I and World War II before taking off in the 1950s.

In the 21st century, modular is more sophisticated, but its core architectural principles remain. That said, a tip of the cap is due to a pair of modular projects of yore, both of which embody creativity, ambition and lasting vision.

Major Milestones in Modular History - Andrew Lloyd Wright Modular HouseFrank Lloyd Wright’s 1923 Millard House

Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright chose modular construction when designing his 1923 Millard House in Pasadena, California. Wright used a unique concrete block building strategy to complete “La Miniatura” for $17,000. His goal was to reduce material costs without compromising aesthetics. We think he proved his point. The structure was recently put up for sale for nearly $4.5 million.

Major Milestones in Modular History - Hilton Palacio del Rio

Palacio del Rio Hotel

San Antonio’s Hilton Palacio del Rio Hotel is an example of modular speed. It was built in 1968 in 202 working days by H.B. Zachry Company (now Zachry Construction Corporation), just in time for the opening of the neighboring Texas World Exposition.

With nearly 500 rooms, the 21-story hotel featured individually pre-cast and decorated modules that were manufactured offsite. The crane-placed modules measure 30’ x 13’ x 10’ and weigh approximately 35 tons each. Today, the hotel remains a vibrant part of San Antonio’s Riverwalk District, and a beautiful example of modular construction.

3 Industries Made for Modular

Modular hotel in Japan

Bayside Marina Hotel, Yokohama, Japan

As modular grows in popularity and architects find new uses for prefab, three industries are best suited to take advantage of the benefits of building offsite. A report by McGraw-Hill Construction says healthcare, commercial warehousing, and the hotel industry would reap the greatest rewards by choosing modular.


Hospitals and similar outpatient facilities are ideal for modular. Patient rooms are identical and can be efficiently replicated at the factory and then quickly assembled onsite. This approach yields consistent quality, time savings of up to 50 percent, and significantly Read more

Modular Obstacles in Small Town America

Modular Taco Bell Franchise, Grundy, VA

Modular Taco Bell Franchise, Grundy, VA

Critics of modular often confuse exterior aesthetics with structural design. The truth behind this myth of modular construction is that, like traditional buildings, there are no limitations on the exterior aesthetics of modular buildings. They can be designed and built using the most elegant exterior finishes, or made cheaply with no-frills, low-cost cladding. Exterior appeal is determined by the architect and his client, not by the construction process.

Small Town Debates Modular Codes

Similar confusion has led residents of Kilgore, TX to lodge complaints about the design of Meadowbrook Preschool, a small expansion project still in progress. The uproar has town leaders considering new codes for future modular construction projects.

While some may scoff at such an issue in small town America given modular’s widespread adoption for large-scale projects, the Kilgore case confirms continued misconceptions about modular construction.

In the Eye of the Beholder

Muhlenburg College Modular Residence Hall

Muhlenburg College Modular Residence Hall, Allentown, PA

The concerns expressed about Meadowbrook Preschool are little more than critiques on its physical appearance with no comment about the new classroom’s functionality or benefit to the existing structure.

The Meadowbrook expansion was properly planned and approved. It meets existing city codes, zoning requirements, and other regulations. Yet, the proposed ordinance (which would not affect Meadowbrook) includes a pair of regulations that could set an interesting precedent if approved. Future modular buildings in Kilgore would need to: 1) be comparable in value to surrounding homes/buildings within a 500’ radius; and; 2) have external facades that look similar to others in the vicinity.

The proposed regulations fail to consider that options for design aesthetics for both traditional and modular buildings are virtually unlimited and are the direct result of the architects vision. That vision is subject to the client’s final approval. They can be elaborate, polished or elegant. Or, they can be plain, unfinished or downright ugly. The fact that the building is modular is irrelevant.

The Right Resolution

We hope that the Kilgore City Council realizes the debate is about exterior aesthetics and not structural design. Given the advantages of modular construction, cities like Kilgore could benefit greatly from going modular more often.

Inside the Ultimate Antarctic Research Station

BAC Halley VI Modular Research StationWe’ve said before that modular is an ideal building method when it comes to adding facilities in remote locations. Well, it doesn’t get any more remote than Antarctica. It’s desolate landscape and unforgiving weather make it inhospitable for humans to live and work. Yet, when the British Antarctic Survey (BAC) needed a state-of-the-art research facility to house its team of scientists and researchers at the South Pole, they chose modular for their base of operations. Built off-site and shipped to Antarctica in sections, the assembled Halley VI Research Station allowed the BAC to conduct important research on matters of global, environmental importance.

Halley VI Background

Commissioned in 2006, the Halley VI Research Station took four years to complete and is Read more

3 Big Benefits of Repeatable Design

Repeatable design for modular franchise buildingsRepeatable design: The process of using a single set of architectural designs to create multiple and identical buildings.

When it comes to choosing the right building method for you, here are three good reasons to give repeatable design a look.

1. Cost Savings

With repeatable design, you get to design once and use it as many times as you like. The design is a one-time investment. You pay once, and use that design time and time again. You may even find a builder Read more