The Casitas Concept +
Homes, Not Just Houses
Bradley Mansfield AIA
Westberg White Architecture
“The house of moderate cost is not only America’s major architectural problem but the problem most difficult for her major architects.” Frank Lloyd Wright, 1954.
83% of the U.S. population currently lives in urban centers. By 2035, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 90% of people in the U.S. will live in high density metropolitan areas. California has the second lowest home ownership rate among all of our 50 states. One third of California’s homeless live in Los Angeles County.
The rapid growth of urbanization and a city’s ability to support and maintain mass populations is dependent on providing the basic needs and services, job opportunities, access to frequent transportation, open spaces, diverse communities and culture, sustainable supportive civil policies, infrastructure procurement and systems, social amenities and housing. The widening housing cost burden and rent pricing discrepancies for individuals and families is evidence that major California cities have not kept pace with the housing demand. The growth potential of these urban areas has far exceeded the supply of shelter by right.
It is within this mixed-use and diverse environmental fabric for attainable residential housing where resources, services and uses are intended to be shared across independent residential districts. The ideal is to decentralize city life and services by instilling re-vitalized urban development and planning methodologies. Parking reform is encouraged by eliminating current jurisdiction parking requirements where new housing communities are being developed in transit oriented locations. Transportation options such as ride-sourcing, bike lanes, pedestrian only connections, rail hubs, and conveniently located bus stops reduce the dependence on private vehicle retainment. Parking structures will soon be re-envisioned as opportunities to recapture urban areas for living and community adaptive re-use projects due to the changing need for private automobiles.
The decline in quality of life and housing in the urban city landscape has an effect on all who choose to live there.
Affordable housing should not look or feel like affordable housing. A home by right provides the ideals of personal freedom, individuality, security, and identity. The demand for affordable supportive housing inclusive of workforce, seniors, students, veterans, transition aged youth, individuals, and families is abundantly needed in urban arenas and downtown metros. So how is this to be achieved? The implementation of advanced modular design and construction innovation is a proven method to address these objectives. This is expressed in the Westberg White Architecture (WWA) Casitas Concept, an equity for all housing model that promotes walkable and connected neighborhood planning, and multigenerational / intergenerational multi-purpose home design.
Starting in 1923, Frank Lloyd Wright furthered the modular architectural design methodologies by designing and building affordable smaller scaled homes for the post war workforce. By using modular design ideals and common building materials once considered unattractive, these natural elements are turned into integrated structures with finishes of beauty. Materials like concrete block, plywood, compressed woods, flake board, cross laminated timber, formed concrete thermal panels and flooring are appealing in their essential forms without paint, plaster, or any other cosmetics to hide the essence of their inherent natural beauty. The Casitas Concept allows materials to exist in their inherent appearance, such as wood which has a natural color, grain and texture in appearance, whether cut from pine, cherry, cedar or cypress. Concrete is nothing more than a mixture of sand, stone, shells, limestone, clay, water, and air. These were homes to be built up out of the very soil, land, and minerals which they would timelessly inhabit and possess.
Function, Adjacencies and Constructability
The design and layout of residential spaces in the Casitas Concept are focused on open interior centralized gathering areas for family, friends, and providing niches for privacy. There is a seamless and fluid designed connection to the exterior spaces to allow the textures of light, air, and landscaping to enter inside the home. At various times throughout the day, the very same spaces can feel quite differently with beams of sunlight or diffuse natural light appearing in different colors, tones and locations, revolving with the passing of time. All indoor and outdoor spaces must be related to the whole of the residential home. The smaller bedroom designs in the Casitas Concepts encourage people to step into family and social gatherings and to participate, communicate, learn and educate. Homes should be as different as those who dwell within.
The greatest revelation of new home design in 2021 is that a home is much more that a place to eat, sleep, recharge and to celebrate friends and family. A home must function as a place of business, an office, a school room equipped for distant learning alternatives, entertainment and activities, all of which provides privacy and separation, wellness, and a collective opportunity to grow individually. Inter-generational and multi-generational supportive ‘third places’ are an encouraging aspect of the new home, and are designed and planned as areas of discovery. The Casitas Concept is inclusive of business, schooling, culture, live/work, and shopkeeper’s collaborative uses in neighborhoods that are intended to be independent, but still function dependently on the uniqueness of the adjacent communities.
Details in design have a purpose, and every building must be designed for a purpose. Every detail in each space must be designed to support that purpose. It is in the individual details of the spaces that connect each person emotionally to their home.
Standardization, modularization, panelization and prefabrication is at the essence of designing affordable new homes. These “ations”, have been present in architectural design and construction for almost a hundred years, but the concepts have often been overlooked or not even considered.
Designing high density wood homes on a four foot by eight foot overlaid grid, which are the manufactured dimensions of both plywood and gypsum board, both horizontally and vertically, eliminates the need for cutting, specialized labor and excessive construction waste by-products.
A modular system for wood construction is laid out on a general grid of four inches, or a combination of four inches, for stud and joist compatibility, (such as sixteen, twenty-four, or forty-eight inches). In modular design, the walls, floors, foundations, vertical shafts, door and window openings are all coordinated with the construction industry’s standard building materials sizes, elements, and components.
Modular units are premanufactured off site and built in environmental controlled studios allowing accurate quality control and quality assurance protocols. Each of the components are designed to withstand transportation widths, obstacles, and stresses.
The prefabricated panels can have the options to be completed off-site with installed windows, waterproofing, exterior finishes, plumbing piping, electrical conduit, fixtures, wall insulation, pre-cut openings for mechanical ducting and even in hotel applications appliances and furniture.
Floor cassettes, which are pre-manufactured floor/ceiling assemblies in timber framed structures, are similar to the prefabricated exterior and interior wall panels in that they are produced off-site with a higher degree of quality, consistency, and accuracy. The floor cassettes include precise pre-drilled openings in the floor trusses for the mechanical, electrical, lighting and plumbing components. Once delivered to the project site and lifted into place, they create a finished solid working platform for the installation of the prefabricated wall panels. The entire process can be completed in just a matter of hours. Compare this timing with the typical field framing schedules that can take up to a week or even longer.
These systems eliminate the number of trades on site, which increases job site safety and significantly decreases construction time. All of these factors combined together equates to significant cost savings which can be passed along to the future home buyer or renter to produce affordable, quality housing.
The price of lumber has more than doubled over the past year due to increases in new home construction. The lack of supply and the overwhelming demand for home ownership is at the core for these increases in lumber pricing and rough sawn timber shortages.
Designing and Building Without Trees
The alternative to wood frame construction is prefabricated light gauge metal stud panelized systems. Prefabricated light gauge metal projects use Building Information Modeling (BIM) analysis for conflict detection and resolution prior to construction mobilization. Coordinating Architecture, Structural, Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing features, elements and components in a three-dimensional model provides a thorough and comprehensive understanding for all the trades to reference and use throughout the construction administration phase. Value engineering, construction estimating, deliverables of time sensitive materials are all a portion of the computer-generated three-dimensional modeling systems.
Every member and component in the wall, floor, and roof assemblies is individually stamped and labeled with the approved listed testing report number and the exact location where the panelized assemblies are to be installed, (for example “Room 210, Corridor Wall”). The pre-assembled components are transported to the construction site when needed, eliminating excessive staging areas for materials which can take up valuable job site real estate.
The UL tested two-hour fire rated floor/ceiling assembly consists of a combined five-inch-deep metal fluted deck and concrete flooring system which requires bearing wall support only in one direction. The metal decking and concrete act as an integrated structural member allowing for interior wall-to-wall clear spans of twenty-two feet or greater and eliminates the need for floor joists.
The underside of this innovative decking at the ceiling can be left exposed or painted. Surface mounted and suspended lighting fixtures can be applied with the electrical conduit running in the floor/ceiling assembly. A drop ceiling can be added to provide a higher end finish to each of the rooms. Wall sconces add additional lighting and are an attractive and complementary source of illumination.
Volumetric Modular is another option, unique from the modular construction systems referenced above. Volumetric Modular design and construction is like using building blocks to create high density attached residential structures. These prefabricated steel box modules are completely enclosed on all six sides consisting of a floor, ceiling and four walls. They are transported to the project site, lifted into place and stacked one on top of the other. These boxes are typically just bolted together, the connection creating a rigid structural frame without the need for crossing bracing or additional structural steel.
In volumetric modular design, a fully factory finished unit with all of the building systems included are called “pods”. Examples of pods include bathrooms and kitchens and are installed within the individual volumetric modular cells as a complete ‘plug and play’ installation, similar in concept to computer PnP’s, and ready to use once connected.
The New Home is Still A Home
Westberg White Architecture is committed to providing quality and coordinated designs for each of their projects. The concepts of modular pre-manufactured materials and components should in no way instill thoughts of ‘cheap’ or ‘less’ in their design quality and implementation. The modular design option provides a means to achieve affordability for supportive and inclusive communities.
Frank Lloyd Wright started in 1923 to make affordable homes a personal passion with his early drawings defining modular components and concepts. He personally drew more than 930 affordable housing ideals, far more than any other project he was ever associated with.
Almost a hundred years has passed since the inspiration for building affordable homes and housing with social cultural growth was presented in America. Affordable homes are a necessity in inclusive neighborhoods. The largest market segment in housing today consists of those who live in urban communities who need to discover affordable options to the high costs associated with the basic need for shelter. Modular design and building are an essential component in the solution.