Arch 264/Off-Site Fabrication

Arch 264/Off-Site Fabrication

Arch 264/Off-site Fabrication

Dana Buntrock

Fall, 2005. Fridays, 9-12

This seminar will take a closer look at the implications of off-site fabrication in architectural production.

Reliance on off-site fabrication varies widely, based on local production norms, the complexity of a project, and the meaning of technology at a particular moment. Countries such as Japan and England enjoy a greater level of off-site fabrication, as a result of their high levels of industrialization and compact populations. Architects there have embraced the opportunities that result, and it is not surprising that some of the leading designers celebrating fabrication include Archigram, the Metabolists, and High Tech designers such as Norman Foster or Richard Rogers - but not all applications of off-site fabrication are so obvious.

There are many arguments for exploiting manufacturing and fabrication opportunities off-site. By working in a consistent, protected environment, worker efficiency and safety are increased, and constructions using different skills are easier to coordinate. Construction periods can also be shortened, as work is done simultaneously rather than sequentially. Completion dates may even be more predictable with off-site construction. Additionally, semi-repetitive production may mean that semi-skilled labor can be used, resulting in significant cost savings. Alternatively, off-site fabrication can allow for increased refinement, because controlled conditions allow for tighter tolerances and the process allows for trial assembly, testing and modification in a way not usually possible on site. Finally, those who advocate an "act local" approach note that local production can enhance the diversity of architecture and contribute to regional economies. However, it is also possible to use off-site fabrication to create a monotonous sameness.

In North America, off-site fabrication tends so be seen as most useful in highly complex buildings (such as skyscrapers), buildings with difficult construction conditions (tight urban sites, hostile climates or building sites with insufficient local labor), and as a way to achieve significant cost savings in highly repetitive buildings (many franchises use off-site production, including Marriott, McDonalds, and Amoco). The fact that off-site fabrication can be exploited to create cheap, monotonous landscapes has made its exploitation unpopular with North American intellectuals, but this prevents us from developing a rich understanding of the successes achieved by architects.

This course will move through three steps: in the initial weeks, we will look at precedents for off-site fabrication in architecture and construction, establishing an intellectual framework for subsequent work. Following this, we will look more closely at some common opportunities for off-site fabrication today. Finally, students will present their own research on local fabrication opportunities. This research will include a detailed report onfabrication opportunities•, based on your interviews with architects and fabricators.

During the course of the semester, readings and visits to fabricators should allow sufficient opportunity for everyone to develop a clear sense of the way off-site fabrication fits into architectural production. I hope we will also begin to develop a sense of what is unique about San Francisco's fabrication community. I have begun to understand local opportunities during the past few years, but I still have much to learn and am looking forward to you teaching me.

Students are not expected to have practice or construction experience for this class, although those who do will have an advantage. By the end of the semester, you should expect to have developed an understanding of the various ways that off-site fabrication fits within design and construction systems, from approaches that cheapen design to those that result in refined architectural output.

Readings and other material

The is one book which I require regular readings from: Off-site Fabrication by Alastair Gibb; this book is available in the bookstore. In addition, it is on reserve in the library, and others who have taken this class will probably be willing to sell you a copy of the book. I will also other readings on reserve in the library, as they are scheduled. Later in the semester, I have recommended some articles. The reading list follows, in a schedule form.

In addition, we will use CourseInfo for supplementary information. I have attached a page on how to register at the end.

Presentations and visits

In this course, occasional slide presentations (by me) serve to highlight key points, and the readings assure you have a deeper understanding of the topics. During the earliest presentations, I will go over precedents and offer suggestions on larger conceptual issues. This will include some detail and specific points from readings, but the two are intended as complements and I won't repeat the readings.

Later in the semester, we will have a mix of seminar classes and visits to plants. I would strongly encourage each of you to take notes during field visits, and to bring a small camera. As a probably unnecessary aside, I would ask that each of you make sure to wear appropriate shoes when we are visiting shops - bare feet, sandals and open-toed shoes make fabricators worry about their insurance coverage. Ditto shorts, halter tops, etc. Use good judgment on this one. For all classes, including visits to fabricators, everyone is encouraged to bring a lively, critical outlook and openness to discussion. One of the nicest things about this seminar is the rich conversations we have in cars headed back to Berkeley.

Seminars are only as good as the participants make them. I am aware that you can be shy, might (even when recognizing it as a poor choice) be unprepared, and otherwise find difficulty contributing. However, I do genuinely believe that our lives will all be very dull if I do most of the talking. To encourage discussions, I will distribute questions that I think might get us started, but I hope if you think other topics are equally important, you will bring them up. In addition, to assure that even the most shy person shares their thoughts, I have assigned several short critical responses that will be graded and an (ungraded) copy will be distributed to the class.

Finally, at the end of term you will have an opportunity to present the results of your work in class. This wrap-up session will include an opportunity to discuss the work; comments that come up can be incorporated before grading.


There are three brief written assignments related to the field trips and readings. Each of these should be no more than two or three single-spaced pages, and should be based on thoughtful reflection, presenting critical issues or questions the combination of the field trips and readings have raised for you. You may also suggest ties to previous readings and field trips, or perhaps establish other links. A copy of your response must be submitted via e-mail on Wednesdays; these responses will be collected and handed out to the class as a whole the following class.

In addition, students will be required to pursue one major research project, presented either in written and graphic form, or as an edited and annotated video.

Research Paper Option: A research paper based on two interviews and additional reading and research; the final paper should be 13-15 pages in length, including 1-2 pages of graphics.

Alternative 1. Interview a designer and a fabricator who have worked on the same architectural project, developing an understanding of the benefits and problems each associate with relying on off-site fabrication, or large-scale component integration on site. In this case, you will benefit from probing the reasons each player advocates off-site fabrication, and what they feel is demanded of them by the process, what they perceive as the alternative to off-site fabrication, and how often they rely on the approach. It is important in this case to be willing to probe the differences between perspectives, which may mean that you will have follow-up interviews.

Alternative 2. Do an analysis of two related fabricators. Locational and process studies are preferred; map and discuss the way that raw materials are brought into the sites, how these are handled and processed, and the territory that is commonly supplied. Some possible pairings are: size of production/craft- and standardized- output using a material such as wood, or product such as cabinets; urban vs. rural production sites and how these affect or are affected by proximity to the markets served; sites which rely on rail, road, or water for delivery of raw and finished materials; sites with significant area for inventory vs. those that rely on Just-In-Time methods; or compare a capital-intensive site to a skill-intensive site.

A 250 word proposal (one page, double-spaced) of the focus of your paper, including a description of the key points you expect to address, and the specific groups involved, is due on October 11, at noon, handed in electronically. To arrive at this point will already require some preparation: you will need to identify an appropriate project, and have agreement from the architects/fabricators that you can interview them.

A point form outline up to five pages in length, listing major points derived from interviews and research is due on November 15, along with a bibliography of related readings other than the assigned texts. It is understood that at this point, some of those readings will be proposals, to be read in the weeks ahead. (Students are invited to see me or the CED librarians during the term if they are having trouble locating suitable texts.)

The final paper is due on December 16, and can be handed in by e-mail.

Video Production Option: [A warning: I have never offered this option before, do not know what equipment is available, and do not, myself, know how to edit a video. Thus, students who choose this option will have to be confident of their own skills!] A 15- to 20-minute edited video presenting the production and development of a major building component or volumetric fabrication. Specific topics covered should be similar to the possibilities mentioned under the research paper option. Students are encouraged to interview at least two people (e.g. one person associated with production, and one person associated with design, or two people who have similar perspectives on fabricators you are comparing) and to include parts of these interviews in the final version, along with images of production and assembly.

A 250 word proposal (one page, double-spaced) of the focus of your paper, including the name of the architect and fabricator, description of the key points you expect to address, and the name and location of the project, is due on October 11, at noon. Students who will make videos are also required to outline their technical preparation for this project, noting equipment availability and knowledge of editing procedures. To arrive at this point will already require some preparation: you will need to identify an appropriate project, and have agreement from the architect and fabricator that you can interview them.

Rough cut “tape” of either an interview or of the fabrication and assembly process is due by November 15, along with a storyboard outline of the points you anticipate you will make in the final presentation. Storyboards should suggest the outline of material, and how various interviews and other information will be mixed into a whole. The final video is due on December 16, and can NOT be handed in by e-mail. Format can be a DVD or VHS tape, as you prefer, and should be handed in to my mailbox in Room 232 The video option can be done by teams of two people working together, if you prefer.

A list of possible interview subjects will be circulated in the second week of class.


The course has four major points I think important to evaluate: observing fabrication, understanding why and how fabrication fits into architecture, thoughtful research, and sharing your insights with others. I have tried to balance these in the grading, but it is worth keeping in mind that the work you produce at the end has a significant impact on your grade.

Three field trip-related assignments at 10% each30% total

Final project, video or research paper

Oct. 11 proposal10%

Nov. 15 rough outline/rough tape30%

Dec 16, final form30%

A few reminders:

Because seminars are only as good as the group, it is important that you attend each class. It is also helpful for everyone to start and end on time; I'll make sure of the latter and I rely on you to help me with the former. More than two unexcused absences will be considered appropriate grounds for removal from the course, something I do not like to do. In cases of illness or personal hardship, documented proof is required for the absence to be excused. Even then, if you are absent too often, it may be necessary to ask you to withdraw from the course.

Another point to keep in mind is the integrity of your work. I believe most of you are extraordinarily honest and do not need a warnings except as a way to ensure a level playing field for all. But in case anyone should find it a temptation to cut corners, I want to remind you that plagiarism and cheating are serious offenses. Plagiarism is the presentation of another person's work as your own. Please make certain that any drawings, video, or photographs which you did not create are properly credited, in the same way you credit a quote. There are also conventions for crediting interviews, web pages and the like, and I will go over this in the later half of the term..

Additionally, I suspect that my interest in fairness makes me rather more of a fascist about hand-ins and late work than many of you might like. I have a strict policy on this subject. First, extensions will be allowed only for reasons which are clearly outside your control, things like serious illness, overseas travel caused by a death in the family, etc. Studio work, failure to have done adequate preparation, recalcitrant interview subjects, and other similar causes for late work will not be sufficient cause to discuss an extension. When in doubt, assume I will NOT give you an extension. Late work will be penalized by a 10% grade reduction for each day it is late. Any work between 5 and 7 days late can receive no higher grade than an “F” – but this is still higher than a zero, and should probably be considered. Work over 7 days late will simply not be accepted.

Most importantly, try to have fun while you learn in this course. The topic is fascinating. I hope that all of us not only learn from each other during the term, but also have fun doing so.

Sept 2 Seminar discussion.
Introduction to the course.
Sept. 9 Lecture.
Historical trends in fabrication, national differences. / Gibb, p. 9-29, 77-79. Alfred Bruce and Harold Sandbank. A History of Prefabrication. ENVI TH7201.J64 no.3 (see question below)
Leads: Time in class to check on research choices.
Sept. 16 Seminar discussion.
Craft, Taylorism, Customization. / Gibb, p. xiii-xvii, 1-9, 40-51, 179-188.
Leads: Time in class to check on research choices.
Sept. 23 Field trip.
Basic materials: concrete, crafted. / (All field trips are subject to coordination.)
Sept. 30 Field trip.
Basic material: concrete, precast. / Gibb, p. 82-98, 104-118,
Assignment 1 due, Oct. 4 at noon, via e-mail or PDF: “Observations on production, addressing scale and quality.” To be distributed to the class on Oct. 7.
Oct. 7 Seminar discussion.
Speed: Overlapping the critical path. / Gibb, p. 32-40, 51-53, 191-211
Time in class to check on research choices, which should be pretty close.
Oct. 14 Field trip.
Speed: steel and digital production. / Gibb, p. 119-128, 175-179,
Oct. 21 Field trip.
Speed: appropriating containers. / Assignment 2 due, Oct. 25 at noon, via e-mail or PDF: “Speed: borrowing technologies, appropriating elements.” To be distributed to the class on Oct. 28.
Oct. 28 Seminar discussion.
Modular applications.
Note: Prefab Now in L.A thru 30th. / Gibb, p. 54-77, 128-174, 216-223.
Nov. 4 Guest speaker.
Modular production: the house. / Gibb, p. 211-216
Nov. 11 NO CLASS/HOLIDAY / Assignment 3, due Nov. 11 at noon via e-mail or PDF: “Looking back: reflections on the field trips and literature”. I will add an introductory set of comments, and distribute these by Nov. 16.
Nov. 18 Seminar discussion.
Looking back: reflections on the field trips and literature. / Gibb, p. 226-233.
Citations reminders.
Dec. 2 Student presentations.
Dec. 9 Student presentations.

*Each week before a seminar (even when we go on field trips) I hope to end class with or e-mail out a set of questions related to the readings. These questions will be used to start discussion the following week. For Sept. 9, I would suggest the following:

• The beginning of the Gibb reading discusses circumstances that generate greater reliance on off-site fabrication. Today, we seem to be in a period when there is again growth in this area. Which of the factors Gibb discusses might contribute to growth in off-site fabrication today? Are there others that he may have overlooked? How does an architect’s awareness of these factors affect choices made about working with industry?