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The FIRST Garage48 Wood Hackathon

We love wood and anything that is made out of it, especially if factory made. So we could not resist going to check out what was going on at the first “Wood Hackathon” ever.

On a sunny Friday morning, we hit the road to Väimela Technology House in Võru county, South Estonia, where the Wood Hackathon was about to take place.

The event, organized by Garage48 and hosted by TSENTER (Centre of Competence for Wood Processing), opened the Wood & Furniture project in the Interreg Estonia-Latvia Programme.


Garage48 is famous for organizing this kind of events, although they are usually oriented to software or electronics. The initiative of extending this fast prototyping model to wood is somehow a novelty and everyone is really curious to see the outcome.



Priit Salumaa of Garage48 presenting the WOOD Hackathon.




If you are not familiar with the mechanics of an Hackathon, here is how it works.

Participants gather in a designated place with ideas for projects on a given topic. This usually happens on a Friday afternoon. Everyone with an idea is welcome to present it on stage in a 90 seconds pitch. Participants listen to the ideas and then each one of them decides on which idea he/she would like to work.

The ideas with less than 4 Team members are discarded and only those gathering more consensus will be implemented.


In the following 48 hours (until Sunday afternoon), everyone works to transform those ideas into a real product. Sleeping is optional.


The Teams work together for 48 hours to reach the common goal of having a prototype to show at the closing ceremony on Sunday afternoon.
Needless to say, this kind of format creates a strong bond among Team members and sparks creativity to its fullest.


In usual work setting, people are motivated by external circumstances to do their work. Here, everyone has an interior drive, a passion for making something happen.

It is a kind of magic.


The 100+ participants were mainly young Latvians and Estonians included students from Art Academy of Latvia, Estonian Academy of Arts and Ergli Vocational School, working practitioners from wood and furniture companies in Estonia and Latvia and woodworking hobbyists.
They were divided into different categories:
- designers;
- engineers;
- carpenters/joiners;
- wood industry practitioners;
- marketers.


...all of them sharing the same passion for woodworking.

Of the 36 ideas pitched on Friday, 18 were turned into prototypes and a few of them into fully finished and working products!

The prototypes were evaluated by a jury composed of experts in the wood sector: 

- Martin Melioranski (Architect, Director of 3D Lab) from Estonian Academy of Arts;
- Renee Puusepp (Architect & designer, Senior Researcher) from Estonian Academy of Arts
PhD Aija Freimane (Associate professor, Postdoctoral Researcher in Design) from Art Academy of Latvia;
- Nauris Grandans (Laboratory Engineer)  from Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Institute in Latvia; 
- Kristaps Ziverts (Testing Laboratory Quality Manager & Furniture Testing Engineer) from Forest and Wood Products Research and Development Institute in Latvia;
- Jörgen Dobris, Wood Processing Development Manager at TSENTER. 

The jurors also mentored the Teams during the entire weekend.

At the end of the intense 48 hours working weekend, the prototypes and the winners were revealed.


Mentor/juror Renee Puusepp awarding a prize.


The Winner of the first Garage48 Wood Hackathon was Bike Box.
Bike Box is a wooden/textile folding bike box that satisfies daily urban needs.

Team: Tiina Pärtel, Ilze Janpavle, Viesturs Laurs, Sander Tint.

Prizes: Additional development weekend at Väimela Tech House & Local tasty prizes.


Tiina Pärtel shared with us that the idea for the Bike Box came to her on the bus while traveling to the Wood Hackathon.
She is an experienced product designer and she really wanted to pitch her own idea at this event. She found valuable help in her Team and they said they are going to develop the Bike Box further.
They already have ideas on how to improve it!


Bike Box Team receiving the award for 1st place.



Bike Box - opened.


Bike Box - closed.




The second place went to Viisk foldable plywood boat... a fishing boat made entirely of wood that can be transported inside the car and unfolded in minutes!


Team: Tiit Kolk, Martin Polikarpus, Rahul Puniani, Kaarel Saar, Matthew Mitt, Remo Allikas, Elza Dobičina, Kaisa Kalmet.


Prizes: Additional development weekend at Väimela Tech House & Local tasty prizes.



Viisk Team receiving the award for 2nd place.



Tiit Kolk B- inventor of Viisk - showcasing the prototype.




The third place went to Tim-Bin... an eco-friendly trash bin for outdoors. 


Team: Helmi Marie Langsepp, Kristel Alliksaar, Egert Uibo, Oskars Kreišmanis, Kaspars Lagsdinž.


Prizes: Additional development weekend at Väimela Tech House, Estonian Academy of Arts 3D chocolates.


Tim-Bin Team receiving the award for 3rd place.


Tim-Bin.




Tim-Bin also won a Special Award for Design.

Special prizes were also awarded for three additional categories:

Best Business Potential award went to Playcart.


Playcard is a wooden version of the shopping cart with integrated children’s car... with a drastically improved user experience. Happy child = happy parent!


Team: Lauri Semevsky, Epp Marta Tarvis, Christopher Nõmmann, Kevin Laus.


Prize: Latitude59 tickets.


Playcart - Photo: Garage48.



Engineering Innovation award went to Dynamic Structures.

A universal joint for wooden structure elements, that can connect 3 or 4 any kind of structural elements together at one point. It makes it easier to build wooden structures in any shapes.

Team: Rudis Rubenis, Zane Kalnina, Ritvars Krastins, Gyuri Jakabfi, Paul Salumaa, Antra Viluma, Aleksis Pavalkovics.

Prize: Tasty local prizes.



Dynamic Structures - Photo: Garage48.


Dynamic Structures Team receiving the award for engineering innovation.



Best Presentation award went to Hund Dog Station.

Smart furniture for dogs, that houses the dog’s food, drinks, toys, accessories. It also serves as an ergonomical dinner table that is adjustable and comfy for dogs of different sizes. We help dog owners to get organized.


Team: Mait Kaup, Veiko Ilves, Lauri Visnapuu, Keidy Säinas, Karin Oras.


Prize: Tasty local prizes & Battery energy drink.



Hund Dog Station.



Most Fun Team award went to Electric Trike.

This idea rose from the ashes of a failure as the original idea presented on Friday turned out to be impossible to make over a weekend.
The Team scattered and most of the members left, leaving two brave men to work on a new, eclectic and fun project.


Prize: Battery energy drink



Electric Trike.




Here are the other ideas that were turned into prototypes in the 48 house of the Garage48 WOOD Hackathon:


1. UVote - Voting booth... let’s make voting booths modern, easy to use and set up and multifunctional.


2. Tree-house KIT - a tree-house-building construction game for children to build an actual tree-house outdoors.


3. Sun Lounger - there aren’t too many nice sunbathing chairs and this product will change that - it is a wooden sunbathing lounger that has a really nice design.


4. CleatWall - smart furniture made from French cleat wall concept that brings an element from woodworking shops to living rooms.


5. Hobbit - Dynamic bed for kids that is affordable, green, easy to use, modular and compact. It is multifunctional as it can be used for sleeping by a small baby and for a playing house by older children.


6. Multiplayer Marble Game - redesign of an existing marble and plywood ball game.


7. Origami Furniture - let’s imagine a piece of plywood, that we can fold into a chair. Plan for 48 hours is to build the concept and if it works, make it open source.


8. Black Hand Office - a special laptop and equipment case for designers that unfolds quickly and has spaces for designer tools to carry around and open easily.


9. Mirror - wooden make-up mirror for girls with bright lights and pockets for

make-up

tools.


10. Nordpedics - handcrafted working table with adjustable height and a visible moving mechanism, e.g. captain wheel that rolls around when the table height is being adjusted.


12. Log Seat - log benches made of the short pieces of logs that remain from log processing.


Despite not receiving any prize, these Teams are all winners - said Priit Salumaa at the closing ceremony.

They gave proof of being able to turn an idea into reality in just 48 hours and they clearly demonstrated to have what it takes to be committed to a goal.



Three-house Kit - small-scale prototype.



Hobbit - Dynamic bed for kids.




At the end of this intense weekend, we wonder if an event like this can be extended to something like prefabricated houses... 

Design technology and structural solution are the bottlenecks of the entire process of getting a house from an idea sketched on paper to a set of packages loaded onto trucks and ready for shipment.

Perhaps putting great architects, talented engineers, experienced manufacturers into a room for 48 hours could generate a handful of exceptional concepts.

 

Could the Hackathon be the solution (or the push) to finally disrupt the Prefab Homes industry?

We invite Garage48 to think about this…

Wikkelhouse: a truly modular modern solution

Innovation often comes from applying knowledge from one field to another one which is totally unrelated. This is exactly what happened with this modular wonder.
The Wikkelhouse was designed and built by a small Company in Amsterdam that started up as a theatre scenery Company in 1989.
You can fall in love with it at first sight.
The simplicity of its design is overwhelming, yet fascinating. The full-width glass facade screams modern while the round features make you think high-quality and excellent craftsmanship.

Looking at it from the side, it is evident that this is a modular building. The 1.2m wide sections are clearly visible as no attempt was made to hide the separation line between the modules.

The Wikkelhouse comes in visible segments, with no shame whatsoever.


Wikkelhouses in Stayokay campsite.

Wikkelhouses in Stayokay campsite.



Wikkelhouse in Stayokay campsite.
Wikkelhouse in Stayokay campsite.


Wikkelhouse in Stayokay campsite - closeup of the entrance.
Wikkelhouse in Stayokay campsite - closeup of the entrance.


Wikkelhouse in Rotterdam Red Apple Marina. 
Wikkelhouse in Rotterdam Red Apple Marina. 



The interior is as good as it gets.
Smooth plywood shets wrap around the entire building envelope and give the house a unique look that feels premium and solid.

Even from the inside, the separation lines between the modules are clearly visible and this adds depth to the interior space. In theory, there is no limit to the number of modules (segments) you can add.
This calls for a very loooooooong house!

On top of the exceptional look and unlimited expandability,  the clever Dutch people at Fiction Factory came up with a specialized module for bathroom and one with the round window, plus accessories for kitchen, living room and stove.
This allows putting together a personalized version of the Wikkelhouse.


Wikkelhouse interior.
Wikkelhouse interior.


Wikkelhouse interior - kitchen module.
Wikkelhouse interior - kitchen module.


Wikkelhouse interior - living room.
Wikkelhouse interior - living room.


Wikkelhouse interior - large living room.
Wikkelhouse interior - large living room.


Wikkelhouse interior - stove.
Wikkelhouse interior - stove.


Wikkelhouse - the full system. 
Wikkelhouse - the full system. 



This modular concept is super simple and yet truly remarkable.
The entire house is installed on a chassis made of concrete blocks and wooden beams. The house is very lightweight (more on that in a moment) and, thanks to this particular characteristic, the chassis can be placed on leveled and compacted ground, requiring no foundations.
This cuts down installation costs and installation time.
High-five to Dutch inventors!


Now, the truly remarkable innovation here is another one:


this house is made of cardboard!


Believe it or not, each segment is built by "rolling" a tiny sheet of cardboard over a steel framework.
The entire system is absolutely ingenious!

The Manufacturer declares a wall U-value of approximately 0.29 W/m2K (R = 3.5).
U-value of windows is declared as 0.24 W/m2K (R = 4.2).


Wikkelhouse - section of the cardboard wall.
Wikkelhouse - section of the cardboard wall.



The 1.2m wide cardboard sheet is wrapped around the framework while 60 lines of glue are "drawn" on the sheet. The glue sticks the layers together and bonds the entire structure as a solid block.
Once the glue has hardened, the steel framework is removed and the segment is ready for finishing.


Wikkelhouse - cardboard gluing.
Wikkelhouse - cardboard gluing.


Wikkelhouse - rolling of the cardboard wall.
Wikkelhouse - rolling of the cardboard wall.



The main characteristics of the Wikkelhouse, as described by the Producer, are: 

- 100% recyclable;
- 3X more eco-friendly than traditional houses;
- exceptional constructive strength;
- optimal insulation qualities;
- unequaled acoustics;
- expected life-cycle of 50 years minimum;
- no foundation needed.


While that's just about anything one would want from a modern prefab house, the Wikkelhouse has another strong selling point: the price.

According to the Producer, a three segments house can be purchased for 30 000 EUR (VAT, transport, installation excluded).
Given the measurements (4.6 x 1.2 x 3), such house would have an indoor net area of approximately 16.6 square meters... setting the square meter price to an unprecedented 1812 EUR per square meter.

For comparison, the concrete built KODA by Kodasema sells for about 3700 EUR per square meter while the glamorous ÖÖD Airbnb module by ÖÖD OÜ  sells for about 2500 EUR per square meter.


It really seems The Netherlands are going to beat Estonia with ease... or maybe not (spoiler alert: you cannot get the Wikkelhouse so easily). 


Wikkelhouse - view of one segment (module).
Wikkelhouse - view of one segment (module).


Wikkelhouse - assembling of the bathroom module.
Wikkelhouse - assembling of the bathroom module.



The transport of a Wikkelhouse is a relatively simple matter.
Thanks to the standard size of the modules of 1.2m, two modules can be transported side by side, amounting to a total depth of 2.4m. The set of two modules fits perfectly on a standard truck (see image below).
Widthwise, one standard trailer can also carry two modules (see image below).

Overall, up to four modules can be loaded onto one standard truck.
The size of a Wikkelhouse composed by four module would be 4.6 x 1.2 x 4 = 22.08 square meters.


Wikkelhouse - transport of four segments. 
Wikkelhouse - transport of four segments. 



Once on site, the modules can be unloaded with a regular fork-lift and placed directly onto the foundation chassis.
The operation is quite simple and, unlike most modular systems, it does not require a crane.


Wikkelhouse - lifting one segment. 
Wikkelhouse - lifting one segment. 


Wikkelhouse - installation of segments on-site.
Wikkelhouse - installation of segments on-site.



Once in place, the modules are secured into place and the structure is finished from the outside with the addition of the wooden cladding.
Once assembled, the house is already finished on the inside and the owner can immediately move in.


Wikkelhouse - installation detail.
Wikkelhouse - installation detail.



this modular system comes indeed with a number of advantages:

- ease of transport;
- reasonable cost per square meter;
- beautiful modern design;
- functionality;
- scalability.

The only disadvantages seem to be the availability and the fact that you cannot customize the architecture of the house. 
The only things you can customize are minor details like colors and presence of windows but the shape of modules is fixed and they can only be assembled in a straight line (so far).

The availability represents the major downside of this otherwise spectacular piece of engineering.
At the moment of writing the Wikkelhouse is available only in the following Countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, the U.K., Denmark.

The Manufacturer claims this is due to transport and installation costs. We are a bit skeptic about that and we tend to believe it is more of a marketing move.
In fact, Fiction Factory decided to play the scarcity card, manufacturing only 20 houses per year.
This is clearly stated on their home page.



Wikkelhouse - screenshot of waiting list from wikkelhouse.com.
Wikkelhouse - screenshot of waiting list from wikkelhouse.com.



So, if you do fall in love with this modular system, you probably will have to wait more than one year to get it... even if money is not an issue!

Fiction Factory employes 45 full-time craftsmen and perhaps this "limited availability business model" is a first attempt to assess their peak production capacity.
We would like to believe that once they figure out which is the real demand for the product and which is their real production capacity, they will start to manufacture more houses... so that one can order the house and get it in a few weeks like it happens for any other factory made product.
Perhaps we'll see this happen... together with a sensible raise of the price.

We'll be here ready to cover their progress with an update.



Photo Credits (all photos): Yvonne Witte.

Modern Modular Homes: Dream or Reality?


Over the course of the years, the way modular homes are designed and manufactured has changed considerably.
The introduction of new materials, machines, technologies, made possible to build houses in a controlled environment in a fraction of the time and at a lower cost.
Despite its hi-quality and affordability, is "modular" the best way to go if you want to build your own dream home?

What does modular mean?

Modular constructions are assembled on site using prefabricated building blocks called "modules".
It is important to start by clarifying the wording because, depending on location and context, "modular" can have different meanings.

In general, modular design identifies a particular approach where a component of given measures is used multiple times in different configurations. Note that this does do not state the item in question should be prefabricated.
In broader terms, modular indicates something that can be expanded if necessary, by simply adding more modules. It is the case of modular electronics systems and modular software that come with easy to add plugins.


In the prefab housing industry, "modular house" generally means a house which structure and interiors are entirely manufactured in a factory and shipped on site as a series of ready-made boxes.



Simplified assembly scheme of a modular home.




This creates a bit of confusion because you can have houses with modular architecture (repeating architectural patterns and components) which are not "modular houses" because they were built with traditional building methods or with prefabricated elements.

Now you will be wondering why anyone would build a modular-architecture house without using a modular production technology... fair question.
There are mainly two main reasons for that: dimensions and location.

Dimension: as modules have to be transported from the factory to the construction site, the maximum dimension of a module is limited (generally max dimension of a module transportable on road with regular trucks are 3m x 12m, 3.5m tall).
The particular architecture of the building in question might require bigger modules (generally larger or taller) which makes transport impossible. In this case, the best construction technology to adopt would probably be prefabricated elements (or panels).

Location: the trucks carrying the modules are considerably large and the need proper roads to maneuver and unload the modules. In some cases the location of the construction site cannot be reached with this kind of truck, making it impossible to deliver the modules. Again, the best construction technology to adopt would probably be prefabricated element (or panels).




The main advantage 

Today, building with a modular system offers the following advantages:

- saving time for the works on-site.

- higher-quality: factory made constructions guarantee materials in good conditions and respect of procedures, hence greater quality of the final product.
- depending on the size of the project, cheaper price: the larger the project, the more economy can be made by using a modular system.


All these advantages will be discussed in detail the next paragraphs.



This is how modular homes are built

A module is made of different components, typically prefabricated elements, that serve both as structure and as functional items.
In a module you typically find one floor, two or more walls, one ceiling and, depending on the functional type of the module, windows, doors, stairs and other specialized building components.


The production process starts with the assembly of elements (or panels). These building components are made of several layers and they are the very same parts used in a regular prefab element/panel house.

The elements are then collected and carried to the location where the assembly of the modules will take place. Elements are large and heavy they are moved inside the factory using indoor industrial cranes.

The factory production goes on at a fast pace. You can expect each module to be built and assembled in just one day and then proceed to interior finish.


Common characteristics of Modular buildings

Modular buildings are generally composed of modules of different types. However, maximum production efficiency (and lower cost) is achieved when a building is composed of several modules of the same type.
The main advantage consists in the fact that you design once and build several times. When a module is built dozens of time, the cost of its design spreads thin. Also, the production time decreases and the overall cost of the project goes down, together with considerable savings in time.


It follows that large buildings with repetitive geometry are the best candidates for this type of construction type.


Carmel Place, NY - Photo: http://narchitects.com

Carmel Place, NY - Photo: http://narchitects.com




Apartment buildings and row houses are great candidates for modular construction because they have repetitive architectural solutions. The more the architecture is repetitive, the more it is possible to take advantage of the modular construction.


Bryn Athyn College, Willow Grove, PA - Photo: https://www.nrb-inc.com

Bryn Athyn College, Willow Grove, PA - Photo: https://www.nrb-inc.com




Multistory single-family homes can also present repetitive architectural patterns, therefore they can be good candidates for modular construction.


Exception made for a few particular types of architecture, single-family villas with complex design are not the best candidate for modular construction.
As result of the complex design, the house would be composed of many different modules and, if a module is produced only once, there is no economy to take advantage of.
The only advantage, in this case, would be the time saved for the installation on-site.

The successful implementation of a modular project much depends on the planning phase.
In fact, since the entire building is manufactured in a factory, it is essential that all the details of construction and interior finish are clear and agreed before the production begins.

With the factory production proceeding at one or more modules per day, you understand there can be no doubt about dimensions, materials, colors, etc...

With this in mind, if you are considering to get a custom-made modular house, you should expect to engage in a close collaboration with the Manufacturer's Project Manager and to have to answer many questions and clarify many points.
Good communication is the key to the success of the project. You should keep this in mind when you select the Manufacturer that is going to build your house. In fact, you are going to spend a lot of time interacting with the Manufacturer's Team (Sales and Project Management), so it is essential that you like the people and you have a good relationship with them.

Different story ifs you fall in love with some off-the-shelf modular system.
The problem with that is that there are not many on the market and their price point is quite high, making it feasible only for very wealthy people.

In off-the-shelf modular solutions, everything is already figured out and all you have to do is to provide the land and the foundation... and the money of course.



Speaking about foundations...

Modules come with ready-made floors and they can always be positioned on solid and leveled grounds.  Generally, it is necessary to leave an air gap between the bottom of the module and the ground itself, so the modules are usually installed on pile or post foundations.
This type of foundation is cheap and it works on most types of soil. In certain soil conditions, a strip foundation might be required.

Can modular homes be put on a slab? ..of course they can, but usually, a slab foundation is more expensive than a strip or post foundation, therefore it makes no sense to spend extra money to provide extra concreted and extra steel on the ground.

Generally, foundations are provided by the buyer, along with all the necessary connections to networks (water, sewage, electricity, communications).



Is a modular home movable?

This question comes up a lot.
Unless it is a one-module tiny home, a modular house can be moved in theory but you probably will not want to do that. Here is why...

After modules are delivered on-site, they need to be assembled. Certain parts of the modules are left open to allow a proper assembly. This means that in every modular construction there is a certain amount of interior and exterior works that have to be carried out on-site.

When moving the modules these works have to be performed in reverse order and then performed again on the new site.
These works include but are not limited to:
- removing exterior and interior finishes at every connection point (the removed materials cannot be reused and they go to waste);
- disconnection of metal hardware at every connection point;
- lifting and loading the modules;
- transport of the modules to the location of the new site;
- unloading and positioning the modules on the new site;
- connecting the modules;
- reinstall new interior are exterior finishing materials.

These are generally expensive operations that do not compete well with the alternative of selling the old home and buy a new one in a different place.

Really... isn't it easier?

The option of moving buildings makes sense for public organizations when a building does not fulfill anymore its intended purpose and the land it occupies can be repurposed to other destinations while the building components reused in other projects.
In all these case the "mobile" possibility given by the modular construction is something worth considering.
Regular homeowners should think in terms of traditional real-estate practices and sell the property when they want to change location or upgrade their lifestyle.


Transport of concrete modular homes - Photo: http://www.kodasema.com

Transport of concrete modular homes - Photo: http://www.kodasema.com




Are modular homes safe?

This is another top asked question.
Honestly, there is no reason to think they would not be safe... but you do not have to take our word for it. Let's look at one analogy and see how factory-made houses can be safer and better built than houses made on-site.

Say you want to buy a new car. You spend some time on Google and YouTube and you narrow down your choice to a few models. You book test drives and you go trying how the new car feels like. 
The car dealer meets you with a big smile on his face and after a quick round of paperwork and instructions, he hands you over the keys.

You drive.

The new car feels good.
The steering wheel responds really well...
the windshield offers a great visibility...
the interior looks good... and it smells good...
the onboard electronics can almost drive the car by itself...

You are impressed.

At this point, do you question if the car is safe or well built?
Would you trust more a car that was designed and built in a local car shop?

No, you wouldn't.

Just because houses have been built on-site with for centuries, it doesn't mean they cannot be factory-made.
As a matter of fact, anything that is factory-made offers better quality and meets higher standards. The reasons are the same we already mentioned: the factory process needs a clear input. For this reason, everything is thought through in the finest detail and nothing is left to the case.
All the details are worked out with great care and they meet all the requirements set by Norms and Law.
Once you understand this, there is no reason to worry. Actually, the opposite is true: when a prefabricated house offers such a high quality, why would you want one that is built on-site?



Exterior look

Modular homes today are different from modular homes of 50 years ago.
In the past, the look of modular homes was nothing fancy. The first modular houses on the market were an attempt to produce something cheap and alternative to the regular residential solution.
The most common type of modular home was the mobile trailer (this is why still today there is confusion between mobile homes and modular homes).


Mobile modular home in "old-school" style.

Mobile modular home in "old-school" style. 




Today modular buildings are about quality, flexibility and readiness.
Modern modular constructions do not try to offer cheap solution per se. Instead, they optimize the equation time-money allowing to build high-quality living spaces with a reasonable budget in a reasonable time-frame.

Since modern modular homes are generally custom designed, the exterior look can be customized and adapted to meet almost any wish or requirement.
The exterior finish can generally be chosen among a variety of materials and treatments.


Exterior finish - untreated larch cladding.

Exterior finish - untreated larch cladding.



Exterior finish - burned cladding.
Exterior finish - burned cladding.


Exterior finish - red cedar shingles + plaster.

Exterior finish - red cedar shingles + plaster.



Exterior finish - metal cladding + wooden cladding.

Exterior finish - metal cladding + wooden cladding.



Exterior finish - plastic cladding.

Exterior finish - plastic cladding.




We have seen modular homes that look like barns, modular homes that look like cabins, modular homes that look like castles,  modular homes that look like real houses.
To achieve the best look, modules are often shipped without exterior finish and the cladding (or plaster) is installed on-site. While this guarantees a great visual result, it will increase the amount of works to be carried out locally and it will end up in increasing the overall construction cost.


Module ready for shipping - Photo: http://www.kodumaja.ee

Module ready for shipping - Photo: http://www.kodumaja.ee


If keeping the cost down is a requirement for the project, then you want to have most of the works and most of the facade done at the factory.



Is it a good investment?

There is really no reason to doubt that money spent on a modular construction is well spent.
As a matter of fact, they are spent with the same degree of 

If the question is "will banks finance a modular home?" then the answer is yes.
However, the terms of this financing might be a bit complicated and, depending on your financial situation, might make the deal not feasible. Here is why...

In traditional construction, banks lend money in stages. The more works are executed on your property, the more the value of property increases and the bank is willing to re-finance your deal with the property as collateral.
When using modular construction, nothing goes on on site until the moment the modules are delivered and then the entire building comes up really fast. The building is finished in a matter of weeks. This leaves no time to the banks to check the progress of works and re-negotiate the loan.

To make it worse, most producers require a down payment at the moment the contract is signed. The percentage fo this payment depends on the producer and on the project.
So, the reality is that building with modules, although very convenient, reliable and fast, requires large capital upfront. There is a real chance that building fast is not the way you want to go if your cash-flow cannot support that. This could be a serious issue that you must consider and discuss with your bank. 

Finally, modular homes are worth buying as long as their price compares to the various alternatives.



Modular homes versus...

There are several alternatives to modular construction, each of which has pros and cons. While making an extensive review of the different construction technologies is outside the scope of this article, we'll make a list and try to highlight the basic aspect of each alternative.


These are the main alternatives to modular construction: 


1) traditional on-site construction (site built, stick built).
This is how wooden houses have been built since day one. Framing parts are measured and cut on site, then assembled by hand by two or more carpenters. Follows installation of insulation, boarding, technical systems an so on...

2)  timber precut systems.
Same as (1) but parts for frames are precut in a factory and delivered on-site. This allows for a faster start of the build. The other phases are exactly the same as (1).

3) timber frame systems.
Frames of walls, ceiling and roof come completely assembled from the factory. This speeds up the erection of the building but once the skeleton is us the construction proceeds with traditional techniques like at (1).

4) timber frame element systems (panelized, flat-pack);
Walls, ceilings and roof come from the factory already assembled and completely finished from the outside. the interiors are usually with gypsum board already installed. This type of construction technology allows building the entire house quickly and to a good degree of finish. In just about one week, the house can be ready from outside and inside it is ready to be painted (you still need to install accessories and technical system on-site).

5) CLT systems (cross-laminated timber, massive wood panels).
Similar to (4) but much more expensive.


The following table shows how these different construction technologies compare (nr.6 is modular construction). The comparison is made over6 different indicators. It is up to you to evaluate which indicators are more important on your project.


Comparison table of different construction technologies.

Comparison table of different construction technologies.




Modular homes prices

The price range varies greatly depending on the size, quality, materials and interior finishes.
We talk of around 4000 EUR per square meter of the KODA modular house to 2500 EUR per square meter of the small ÖÖD hotel module.
Custom made modules for large residential projects can cost as low as 1500 EUR per square meter, still meeting all quality, safety and environmental requirements.
In cases where requirements can be lowered (temporary accommodations, summer houses, temporary refugee shelters) the price can go below the 1000 EUR per square meter.


NB: these prices are indicative and do not include VAT.



Conclusion

Modular construction is indeed a viable option to build your dream home.
Anyway, the feasibility of the project greatly depends on the type of architecture you want to use.
In most cases, the alternative of prefabricated elements is to be preferred because it offers greater architectural flexibility, easier transport, and easier design process and it generally comes at the same price level. 
Be informed that producers of modular buildings often do not want to deal with small projects and they take only big clients coming with large residential projects.
This is one more reason why you should seriously consider the option of prefabricated elements over the turn-key modular choice.
Keep in mind that some element-house producers also offer turn-key possibility.

So, which solution are you going to choose for your dream home?

KODA Prefab Homes - 2 Years Later

KODA Village in Tallinn   - Photo: katus.eu.

Two years ago we made an exception to our "wooden only" policy and we had an interview with people from Kodasema OÜ, a small and ambitious Company providing a clever turnkey housing solution.

Today we went back to see how they are doing...

KODA by Kodasema is a future-proof, movable, concrete house. Since we first covered their story in November 2015, Kodasema has been growing at a steady, fast, pace. 

Today there are opening a KODA Village near Port of Tallinn (Mere pst 10).


We spoke to Ülar Mark, System Architect at Kodasema, and we tried to get a clear picture of the progress they made in these two years.




What is going on in those KODA houses near the Port of Tallinn?


Ülar Mark
: We are here experimenting a mixed-use KODA Village.
5 of those KODA are Hotels, 1 is Kodasema Office and one is a showroom for Union of Estonian Designers's. 



Mixed-use KODA Village in Tallinn   - Photo: katus.eu.
Mixed-use KODA Village in Tallinn - Photo: katus.eu.


Mixed-use KODA Village in Tallinn - Photo: katus.eu.

Mixed-use KODA Village in Tallinn - Photo: katus.eu.




How many "KODAs" have been built since the beginning?


Ülar Mark: Right now we have built 31 KODA modules. They have been installed in several locations in Europe and with different destinations of use.


For example:

- three units are used as classrooms in Rocca al Mare School;
- one is in Helsinki;
- one is in London;
- one in Amsterdam;
- seven in here in Tallinn working as Hotels and offices.


The rest are in our factory waiting for delivery and all of them have been already sold.



KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: front view.

KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: front view.
Photo: Oliver Moosus



KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: connection with the main School building.

KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: connection with the main School building.
Photo: Oliver Moosus



KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: classroom interior, from the front.

KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: classroom interior, from the front.
Photo: Oliver Moosus



KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: classroom interior, from the back of the classroom.

KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE: classroom interior, from the back of the classroom.
Photo: Oliver Moosus



KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE.KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE.

KODA modules as School classrooms - Rocca al Mare, EE.
Corridor connecting the main building to the classrooms - 
Photo: Oliver Moosus




There is a great advantage in using KODA modules for public buildings: the modules can be easily relocated and repurposed once they are no longer needed at the original location.
Think for example of a school that becomes over-sized when the growth of the population slows down... when there are fewer kids the school can be down-sized and the KODA units removed and used by the Municipality for different needs (i.e. extending a hospital).
The KODA solution allows spending public money in the best possible way.




How much does the 31st of KODA house differ from the first prototype you built?
From distance, they seem quite similar...


Ülar Mark: As you said, from the outside they do not differ much. But they are very different.
The differences are in the construction details and they are hard to spot.
Whatever I answer to you, nobody would understand how much sweat and tears have gone in those changes. It would be very long to explain.
Maybe the best answer is that, between the prototype and current version, there has been continuous hard work of 10-15 persons. 



KODA Airbnb accommodations in Tallinn.
KODA Airbnb accommodations in Tallinn.


KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, living room from entrance -   Photo: Oliver Moosus.

KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, living room from entrance - Photo: Oliver Moosus.



KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, living room from inside -   Photo: Oliver Moosus.

KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, living room from inside - Photo: Oliver Moosus.



KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, from loft -   Photo: Oliver Moosus.

KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, from loft - Photo: Oliver Moosus.



KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, loft - Photo: Oliver Moosus.

KODA Airbnb accommodation in Tallinn, loft - Photo: Oliver Moosus.




In the Last interview, about two years ago, you said that KODA houses are factory made with a process similar to the one adopted in the automotive industry. You improve the product as you gain new knowledge from the manufacturing process and you try to make new KODA Villages look and work better. 


What has been the feedback from the people who have seen this first KODA Village?


Ülar Mark: We did not get any negative comments. People usually appreciate the fact that a site where old buildings were demolished has been taken care of. They like that the site is living a new life, with all these small nice modules. The place is vibrant with life, people are moving around with curiosity, the lights are on. 


Because of the noise of the busy Harbor area, some people are still wondering if this is actually a good place where to have Airbnb accommodations or a small Hotel. 

Here is where the quality of KODA kicks in (opening the door): when the door is open, it is quite noisy. There are big trucks passing by on their road to the harbor... but when you close it, there is silence.
Quite surrealistic experience, no?

There has been a switch in the mental attitude of the people. There are more and more people deciding not to own car, they just use one when they need it. They use services like Uber or Taxify or just rent a car for a period.
This shift comes down to houses as well: young people need an accommodation in a nice neighborhood, they are not too keen on the idea to own the place they live in. They are more than willing to use just a service.



People sitting in KODA Village in Tallinn

People sitting in KODA Village in Tallinn.



People in Nohik Cafè, KODA Village, Tallinn - Photo Annika Haas.

People in Nohik Cafè, KODA Village, Tallinn - Photo Annika Haas.



People in the Office of  "Union of Estonian Designers", in KODA Village, Tallinn

People in the Office of  "Union of Estonian Designers", in KODA Village, Tallinn.




How many people are involved in the process of producing KODA prefab homes? 


Ülar Mark: There is Design and Development Team, some of these people are full-time employees, some part-time. There are people involved in Prototyping and Production process in the factory and there is also some seasonality involved. 

I would say the number of people involved is between 15 and 40.




KODA house price... everyone is asking about it. Which sum are we talking about?


Ülar Mark: The starting price is around 100000 EUR. The final sum depends of course on customization. VAT and the cost of transport have to be added.




If I bring you the money today, how long it would take for me to get my Koda?


Ülar Mark: If you order today you could get it tomorrow. We have an agreement with LHV Bank, so you could finance your KODA and get it easily, without putting down the entire sum.



KODA private house, by Summer -   Photo: Tõnu Tunnel.

KODA private house, by Summer - Photo: Tõnu Tunnel.



KODA private house, by Winter- Photo: Mairi H.
KODA private house, by Winter- Photo: Mairi H. 


KODA private house, by night -   Photo: Tõnu Tunnel.

KODA private house, by night - Photo: Tõnu Tunnel.




If I want to have a KODA for renting it out, how the process would look for me? ...and how does it work for you?


Ülar Mark: Usually, the scheme goes like this: the Investor buys the product/s and then there is an operator who manages the renting process. We have an agreement with LHV bank for financing KODA, so you have to invest only about 30% in cash and can lease the rest from the bank.




What has been the bigger step for Kodasema?


Ülar Mark: We just recently won a public procurement and are going to install 60 KODA units into the Tallinn Harbour area. It is going to be 2-storey structure, with terraces and stairs and nice space in between.



KODA Urban Village at Tallinn Harbor - Render by Kodasema. 

KODA Urban Village at Tallinn Harbor - Render by Kodasema. 




Our architects are developing different community structures, creating various spaces between the units. This is one of the main topics our Team of architects is working on, besides applying for building permits.



Example of Urban development with KODA modules: solution with private garden.

Example of Urban development with KODA modules: solution with private garden.



Example of Urban development with KODA modules: multi-story solution with inner garden.

Example of Urban development with KODA modules: multi-story solution with inner garden.



Example of Urban development with KODA modules: chessboard solution for row-houses.

Example of Urban development with KODA modules: chessboard solution for row-houses.




Meanwhile, we are working with other Countries and we have to design projects and apply for building permits there. At the moment we have interested parties from UK, Netherland, Sweden, Spain. We also include local partners in the process. 


When comparing us with car factories, the bureaucracy might be our weakest point.




What do you mean by that? 


Ülar Mark: With a car, you pay and you can drive out from the shop. With a house, there is a big gap full of work between the wish and the actual building.
Even if we can deliver and install the house in one day, you are still going to need several weeks to sort out all the permissions and paperwork.




Speaking of time... how long does it take now to manufacture one KODA house?


Ülar Mark
: We became much faster in producing the units. Standardization and Lean Production techniques work wonders. Today it takes just 6 days to produce one KODA module. 



Transport of modules for KODA Village in Tallinn - Photo: Mairi H.

Transport of modules for KODA Village in Tallinn - Photo: Mairi H.



Have you taken any Investors onboard with Kodasema?


Ülar Mark: Yes we have. We had 2 seeding rounds and we did raise capital. At the moment we have only Estonian Investors.



KODA Village in Tallinn - Photo: Tõnu Tunnel.

KODA Village in Tallinn - Photo: Tõnu Tunnel.



KODA Village in Tallinn - Aerial view - Photo: katus.eu.

KODA Village in Tallinn - Aerial view - Photo: katus.eu.



Our conclusions.

The solution designed and brought to life by Kodasema is indeed innovative, functional and elegant. They created an object that screams Quality and can be installed in just one day. This is brilliant.
The quality of their work is outstanding and their dedication is impressive.

However, with a floor plan of less than 27 square meters (see KODA house plans below) and a price of over 100000 EUR, the nominal price stands at over 3700 EUR per square meter!

When the average price for a good custom made small construction is less than 2000 EUR per square meter, we wonder whether KODA is just another architectural exercise in the Startup ecosystem or if there is a real future for it.
In a previous article, we covered the expensive Airbnb solution by ÖÖD OÜ and even that was way cheaper than KODA (about 2500 EUR per square meter).

So far KODA worked well for small demo projects where money was not really an issue.
Our concern is: would it work on the real open Market?

When developers look for solutions on large housing projects, the price they look for is in the range of 1300-1500 EUR per square meter. We know this for a fact.
While solving this problem is probably not one of the objectives of Kodasema, there is a real opportunity for anyone who can find a scalable solution to satisfy this - huge - Market need.

To close with an automotive comparison, the current KODA units are much like Tesla's "Model S". We are hoping that Kodasema will bring the innovation further and develop soon a "Model 3"...so that everyone can really tap into the benefits of this new type of architecture.


KODA house floor plans - ground floor (about 21 square meters).

KODA house floor plans - ground floor (about 21 square meters).


KODA house floor plans - first floor (5.4 square meters).

KODA house floor plans - first floor (5.4 square meters).



INTERVIEW BY: TIIT SILD.


The new hype: Airbnb prefab modules


During the course of last 2-3 years, Airbnb has disrupted the property rental Industry. Will this innovation propagate to the Prefab House Industry? 
We don't think so..
There has been a lot of buzz lately about prefabricated modules specifically made to be placed into gardens or small properties and rented out through Airbnb.
Popular blogs like treehugger.cominhabitat.com and curbed.com covered this phenomenon, as dozens of other minor blogs did. 

ÖÖD Airbnb module - Photo: Anton Toomere for ÖÖD
ÖÖD Airbnb module - Photo: Anton Toomere for ÖÖD



An appealing Idea.

Just put a series of small boxes on your property, list them on Airbnb... and you have a fully functional business.
Not so fast, Billy.

We have been in the Industry of Prefab Timber Houses for over a decade. During this time, we have seen modules of any kind, from small construction site offices to large apartment buildings.
Estonia is famous for the export of prefab houses and there is even an Association of Producers to guarantee good quality and fair competition. 
In Estonia, there are large companies specializing in the production of modules (Kodumaja and Harmet) and other companies producing a mix of element houses and modular buildings (Matek, Timbeco, Qhaus, Ritsu, ...).
The list of reputable producers is long and can be found on the website of the Estonian Woodhouse Association.



A commoditized Industry. 

Many of these producers have been around for a couple of decades and they've been competing against each other in the good spirit of consumerism. As result of this process, today one can buy top-quality prefab houses at a very low price.
It might sound surprising but this is the hard truth: the Industry of Prefab Timber Houses is commoditized.



Where is the benefit?
When we started to see small companies basing their entire business model on "Airbnb hotel modules", we couldn't help asking: cui prodest

Tiny houses
 have been around for a while, as well as the trend of converting shipping containers into small garden homes.
How comes that making more of these can create disruption?
Really, who does benefit from it?



Little or no innovation in this type of product.

Small one module houses are very common in Scandinavia.  Due to housing needs and to a change in the building regulation,   over the past two years Sweden saw a booming increase in the demand for this type of buildings.
Today in Sweden (Estonia, Norway, ... ) one can build "garden rooms" with no permission, provided the construction does not exceed 25 m2 and it is properly located with respect of neighboring properties.

Producers of prefab houses have been flooded with requests for 18-24 m2 modules. Architects have been designing these modules for years already.
A few examples can even be found on our website: the small LEILI by Gloghome and the larger SHIP by Kauss.


LEILI by Gloghome.



SHIP by Kauss.



So, how comes that when a small startup like ÖÖD OÜ arrived on the scene with their "hotel room concept" they got featured on every blog and they became insta-famous?



Keep it simple.

ÖÖD has done a brilliant job at narrowing down their focus on a tiny segment of the modular housing market. On top of that, they picked a booming segment: the multi-million Airbnb Industry.

On  the ÖÖD website one can read this message: "ÖÖD allows anyone to jump-start their hospitality business".

That one sentence describes perfectly the value proposition of this small and ambitious company. It leaves no room to uncertainty on what they offer (a prefab module you can buy and rent out) and it means business... YOUR business.
ÖÖD is selling more than a module, they are selling a dream... conveniently packaged in an outstanding marketing message.

Their little stunt completely overpowered Manufacturers with decades of experience and track record of many successes. 
Of course, any of the manufacturers listed above can produce a ÖÖD-like module... most likely at a cheaper price. However, those big companies do a little bit of everything (houses, garages, apartment buildings, schools, ...)  and they do not prioritize their marketing efforts. The result is that they are practically invisible to the masses. 

ÖÖD niched down to the extreme and they got massive visibility in a very short time, slapping on the face everyone else... or maybe not...



You can't fool Customers.

The Internet is a powerful tool and it completely changed the way we live, work, think.
Any wise buyer knows how to use Google to find the best deal. Someone who is looking to jump into the  "quick Airbnb" business is not going to throw money away and most likely will investigate thoroughly which are the alternatives to the so popular ÖÖD modules.
It will not take long before these people will land on the webpage of other manufacturers and, at that point, the laws of consumerism applies... and we know for a fact that this kind of game is played on the price.



David and Goliath

There was a tale of an ordinary, small, man knocking out a giant.
Many might have thought that ÖÖD was destined to be the new David. We think that it takes more than one startup to disrupt a commoditized Industry.
This time David might not kill the Goliath and the Manufacturers could end up having more work thanks to the exposure generated by ÖÖD.



Let's do some math

We got really curious and we started to investigate how much would it cost to bring home one of these modules.

NOTE: all the prices mentioned in this article are without VAT and without transport.


The price for ÖÖD Airbnb hotel module is not published on their website... so we had a meeting with the ÖÖD guys and we asked more info about their product. Kaspar Kägu, Head of Sales at ÖÖD, told us the price is around 45 000 EUR for the module fully finished, excluding the bed.


Let's suppose one wants to buy and setup this module on a property to rent it for 100 EUR/night.
Let's assume one can rent all weekends and one day for each week. There are 52 weeks in one year.
Let's suppose also that for 8 weeks in summer the module can be rented for the entire week.

That makes 3days x 52weeks + 4days x 8weeks = 156days + 32days = 188 days/year of occupancy.

When renting the place at 100 EUR/night one would have a turnover of 18 800 EUR/year.

Considering the extra expenses to transport the module, to set it up and to run the business, the investment would be repaid in no less than 3 years and a half.

Now, while this is not too long time for break-even, there are many assumptions made.
What can go wrong?

Everything can go wrong:
  1. 1) no one can guarantee an occupancy of over 50% (188/365);
  2. 2) no one can guarantee that the place can be rented for 100 EUR/night... that depends very much on the location.


For average locations (or any location where there are a lot of Airbnb places avalable) a renting fee of 50 EUR/night seems more reasonable.

The result is that the real break-even time could be well over seven years!

So what can be done to make the "Airbnb hotel module business" less risky?
Easy, find a cheaper module.



ÖÖD alternatives

Over the years we have seen modules of all kinds.
45 000 EUR looks very expensive to us, so we started to investigate in order to check where the market price stands for this kind of small garden building.

It didn't take long to find another object which offers the very same value proposition: same size, same premium finishing and customization available.
The only difference is the glass facade that is replaced by premium vertical cladding.
The module we found also offer a foldable terrace which makes it completely burglary-proof.
...much like a medieval castle!!!


NOTE: in our opinion the 3-sided glass wall will not work at all in warm climates since the direct solar radiation will transform the module into an oven... and no, there is no air conditioning that can solve the problem of direct solar radiation (you can't overpower the sun at southern latitudes).
Our best guess is that ÖÖD will have to come up with a 1-sided glass facade model for all those locations who require shading from sun or more privacy.


The alternative model we found is not a cheap imitation. As a matter of fact, it was designed and created before ÖÖD modules came on the market.
Very much like the ÖÖD Airbnb modules, this module is nothing short of stunning.

Here are some images, courtesy of the Producer.


The foldable terrace.



The module completely closed... on the four sides!
The terrace is motorized and it opens with a remote, like the ones used for gates.




The front facade is all glass.



The interior can be customized according to customer's wish.



The standard model comes with a small room + sauna + shower and toilet room.



View of the main room at the entrance.



View from the main room.




These photos should be enough to show the quality of this product.

We believe that this premium module can effectively replace a ÖÖD module for the purpose of Airbnb renting.


The main question at this point is: what is the price of this alternative solution?


We asked the producer to made a price offer for us, based on our custom design
In order to get a fair comparison, we replicated the exact interior layout of the ÖÖD modules.

Price?

A little less than 30 000 EUR.

It appears that ÖÖD modules are marketed for a very high-end clientele as their price is about 30% higher than the competition.
We see a potential weak-spot in the business model proposed by ÖÖD OÜ.
In fact, high-end clientele is usually composed by private Clients valuing Quality over price for their own home.

Remember the brilliant value proposition of ÖÖD OÜ?
  
"ÖÖD allows anyone to jump-start their hospitality business"

This statement is obviously directed to business Clients with the objective to buy and rent for profit.

So where is the weak spot?

1) the type of Client we are looking at is business and not private;
2) the best interest of the Client would be to cut as much as possible on costs in order to maximize his/her profit.

If we were to start and Airbnb business based on small prefab modules, we would surely buy the object offering the best compromise price/quality.

Given the price point of  ÖÖD modules, our choice would go for the beautiful alternative we found.

Should ÖÖD OÜ revise their prices towards the market price, they would have a better chance of being successful.
However, once the new market segment is created and the demand starts to be strong, all the manufacturers will jump on this new trend and offer this type of modules for even cheaper price.



Our point of view
Since the very beginning, katus.eu has been encouraging the fair competition among architects and among manufacturers. With this in mind, we welcome new ideas and new concepts that might bring the game a level up.
However, we strive to do everything possible so that buyers will have the better hand in this game.
We do not want buyers to be fooled by over-inflated marketing.
This is why we felt the need to speak up and bring our opinion to the table.

Let's work together to create a bright future for the Industry of Prefab Timber Houses.


"Tagurpidi Maja": an Upside Down House in Estonia

Over the years we have seen prefabricated timber houses of all shapes and kinds… but we were yet to see one that stands on its roof.

If you happen to visit the Estonian National Museum in Tartu, your attention will surely be caught by the building that stands in front of it.

While the Estonian National Museum is a great piece of modern architecture and has a footprint of about 29 000 m2, the building we are talking about is small and quite traditional… except for one thing: it is upside-down.


It is a little yellow house and it really looks like it was blown there by the wind. White windows shine over the wooden cladded facade, in a perfect Swedish style fashion.
Part of the ridge of the dark metal roof is embedded into the ground and the foundation slab is high in the sky.

It is really weird to see the entrance door standing upside-down five meters above the ground.





Mother Nature has nothing to do with the house being upside-down. It was built like that on purpose.

But what could that purpose be?


Entertainment.


Tagurpidi Maja”, the upside-down house in Tartu, is an attraction built with the intention of amusing visitors, offering them a unique experience (in exchange for an entrance fee of course).

This original idea comes from a group of Estonian Entrepreneurs. They saw an opportunity in building an attraction right next door to one of the most visited locations in Estonia: the newly built National Museum.





The Entrepreneurs contacted one well-known producer of Prefab Timber Houses (Q-haus Baltic OÜ) and together they worked out a plan to make this idea come to life.

Designing and building an upside-down building was not going to be an easy task - says engineer Anton Balash (www.mainpart.eu), at the time Chief Designer at Q-haus.


The original opening date should have been in October 2016, at the same time of the opening of the National Museum.

However, the planning and construction the upside-down building turned out to be more complex than foreseen and the grand opening was possible only at the end of August 2017.


This is not the only upside-down house on the Planet but it is the first and only in the Baltic States, therefore its opening made a big noise on the Media.


The closest houses of this kind are in Szymbark, Poland (built in 2007) and you can find at least 3 more in Germany (CrazyHouseToppelshaus, Weltstehtkopf). Other famous upside-down buildings are in Florida, Malaysia and Thailand.

However, the upside-down house of Tartu is the only one open to the public to be inclined on two axis.


As result of this particular geometric combination, inside the house no surface is perfectly vertical or horizontal... which creates a sense of disorientation in everyone visiting the building.


Triin Lõhmus works in the house every day and she confessed it took a few days to get used to the "unusual angle" of the building.

Now she feels dizzy only for a few minutes during the first hour of work.





Why one feels dizzy?

It is the combined effect of having everything upside-down and walking on an inclined surface.

The house is inclined by 7° on both axis. That is a lot!

For comparison, the Leaning Tower of Pisa today leans at an angle of just 4°...


Our brain is used to see the interior of a house as a set of straight lines which are perfectly vertical or horizontal. When we stand in the upside-down house, our body automatically finds the right balance for us to stand on our feet. However, the visual feedback processed by our brain tells that something is wrong. The brain suggests we should lean to align ourselves with the walls... and if we do that we are going to lose balance...

Yes, pretty mind-blowing.


Triin guided us inside the house and shared some more details and interesting facts.



How big is the house?

The building is a regular single-family house and total floor area measure 149 m2.

The interior is fully furnished in Swedish style and it really feels like a real home.




How much did it cost?

This question didn't get a precise answer. However, we were able to understand that the total cost of the building falls somewhere between 300 000 and 400 000 EUR.

A straight regular building of the same size and shape would have cost no more than 250 000 EUR. Yes, building a house upside-down is indeed more expensive than building a regular one!




What was the biggest challenge?

The extra cost has to do with the extra challenges and the huge amount of steel used for the construction of the load-bearing structure.

Initially, the house was designed to be inclined only on one of the two axes, like all other upside-down houses in Europe.


When the idea came to incline the building on two axis, the complexity of the project increased a lot.


We spoke with Andrei Balash, the engineer from Novarc Group AS who designed the structure. He told us that there are over 12 tons of steel in this construction, most of it hidden in the roof.

Every construction detail in this house has been a challenge - says Gennadi Mišihhin (www.mainpart.eu), the engineer who designed the wooden structure.

Since there is no vertical surface in this house, gravity plays a big role affecting every single component. Every joint has to be carefully calculated and it has to be done manually.

This took a lot of extra resources and extra time.


Overall, the four engineers who worked on the project are extremely satisfied with the result and they call it a great success.





How is the public responding?

"People are crazy about this house!" - Triin says.

When they drive by they stop the car and turn back to come visit.

If they go to the nearby National Museum, they see the house from far and cannot resist coming to visit.

Some of them are skeptical at first... but after they get in they all are excited like kids and very pleased with the experience.


Tagurpidi Maja Google Snippet | katus.eu

According to Google (yes, Google is still tracking us all) a visitor spends on average 45 minutes inside the building.

Triin is right when she says that people are pleased with the experience: the rating on Google scores an outstanding 4.9 out of 5!




Do you target domestic Market or Tourism?

Although almost everyone could enjoy a visit to Tagurpidi Maja, visitors getting to the house are mostly coming from the nearby National Museum.


Kids are the “driving force” for the visits as they easily get super excited seeing the building. They then start pushing their families to spend an extra hour (and a little more money) to visit the upside-down house.


There are many Tourists visiting the National Museum, mainly Latvians and Russians, but also a lot of Estonians.

Kuldar Leis, the CEO of Tagurpidi Maja, says one of their plans is to help Estonian schools, providing educational visits to the house in the frame of micro-courses about physics and building concepts.




How many visitors do you plan to have?

In 2016 the National Museum registered 300 000 visitors.

All these people are potential visitors for the little Tagurpidi Maja… but of course, not all of them will be able or willing to visit the little yellow house.

These big numbers are just speculations.

However, everyone has been positively surprised by the number of visitors registered in the first weeks or operation (August 2017).


They told us that on the first weekends they registered over 1000 people per day. Considering the average cost of a ticket around 6 EUR (5 EUR for groups and 7.5 EUR full price), that could repay the entire investment in the course of just two years!


It is a brilliant investment.




Which is your Marketing Strategy?

There is hardly one at the moment. It has not been necessary.

From the very first day, the house has been selling itself.

Of course, there are Marketing activities planned for the future but the response of the public has been so strong and positive that the budget allocated to Marketing will probably have to be revised (less than planned).



Why did you choose a traditional architecture over a more modern one?

"We did not want to be disruptive" - says Indrek Taukar, the Architect of Tagurpidi Maja.
"An upside-down house is already something very unusual and so we wanted to give people an element of traditionalism they could connect with, hence the traditional Swedish style in yellow."

Given the very positive feedback, this choice seems to be a winner.




Not everyone agrees.

We did not stop at the first positive feedbacks and we tried to dig deeper, listening to the opinion of those who do not really like the yellow upside-down house.
It wasn't difficult to find a few authoritative voices that do not agree with the general public.

Karin Bachmann, landscape Architect at OÜ KINO, says:
"an upside-down house is, at first, entertainment. Definitely a good spatial experience, but not a quality one. This solution has nothing to do with the space it is located in... it is like a parasite laying on back of the museum. #ArchitectureGoneYellow."

Anna-Liisa Unt, Urban Design Specialist at Tartu Municipality, comments :
"I personally do not like it. It should not have been built. The fact that upside-down houses have been built once somewhere else, does not mean that we should embrace it and copy it. Though, I must admit that interior design is beautiful."



Will the hype last?

This is an open question and indeed we will come back to review this object one year from now.


We are particularly curious to see if the business associated with it stands the test of time and if the prefabricated structure of the house will stand the challenge of gravity over the long run.


From our side, we can only recommend to visit the house and not to be shy to take mind-blowing pictures!
However, as one of our goals is to promote good contemporary architecture, we are really waiting for the first contemporary upside-down house...


Indrek Kuldkepp: “An A-frame house is a home for those who (can) calculate”

The A-frame house is an A-shaped building which, back in the Soviet era, was familiar to people as a building typology that had the roof touching the ground, or Rannapiiga. This typology is not known for its trendiness but rather for being (by square meter) at least half the price of a normal new building” claims Indrek Kuldkepp, the founder and one of the owners of Avrame.

When designing his own house, Inkrek Kuldkepp followed the principle that the building is meant to worship its residents, not the other way around. He does not consider it reasonable to take bank loans with high interest for decades to live in an unreasonably huge building.
Instead, he focuses on the feasibility of the building from the very beginning of the design process.
As his own home exceeded expectations and proved to be comfortable as well as profitable, he decided to start producing the A-frame houses for the market as well.



Visualisation of new A-Frame Trio model




How did you come to the idea of A-frame building?


I was looking for a fast and economic solution that would mean I could afford a house without a bank loan and found an A-frame on Pinterest. I studied the history of this type of building and it impressed me a lot. Already back in ancient times buildings used to be triangular, although the style reached the peak of popularity in the US in 1960s and 1970s during the poorer post-war era. Here in Estonia such houses were built in 1970s for the same reason of limited resources.




See the new AVRAME A-frame house kits here:


Avrame Trio
 
Averame Duo 

  Avrame Solo



In the US these buildings lost their popularity because of the absence of insulation. The thermal insulation materials used back then were not good for insulating inclined planes; the houses built in Estonia had poor insulation as well.
Today the building materials have improved: we use SIP-panels for their off-peak price and very good thermal insulation characteristics.



What standards did you set for yourself when designing your house?


One of the conditions was that it should be reasonably easy to build, enough to be self-built.
It is always hard to find good contractors. I often hear that people had bought high-quality materials, but in the end the building itself is still of poor quality. Therefore I was looking for a type of construction that could be built solo.  



 


There were no major setbacks during the construction and this encouraged us to start to reselling. I have 18 years of sales experience in wooden houses and also had the support of experienced specialists. Building a house on your own is always difficult and it is common to be overwhelmed.

 

Of course, one can always buy a ready-built house with a price that includes everything, including the profit made by he contractor, developer and real-estate agents. When money is not an issue ...then why not ...but when you are looking for affordable solutions then a self-built solution is worth considering.






Are A-frame houses cheaper to build? ...and how much did you save with an A-frame house kit? 


A-frame houses have pros and cons, the price is for sure an advantage.
The price for my house was about half the price of the market price, making it a bit less than 600 EUR per square meter. One of my friends asked me whether I stole the materials – how else did my project turn out to be so affordable?


But of course, I bought all the materials and stayed away from cheaper options, especially when it comes to details. I have wide pine boards on the floor and the walls are covered with Spanish clay paints.

 

When your budget is 1500 EUR per square meter, then you do not have to cut corners – you will get high-quality building and you can make something cool and stylish.
When your budget is 1200 EUR,   then you will miss out on the coolness.
With a budget of less than 1000 EUR, you either have to build it yourself or save on materials.


As for cons, the interior design of an A-frame house is pretty simple. I gave up the coolness and acted on my own. The whole building is basically an attic and someone can see it as giving up on comfort. I have no problem with it but I must confess it gets complicated when trying to fit the furniture.






How long did it take to transform the original ideas into a prototype?


I was searching for ideas for about 9 months, and the building took as much. When today I offer the same model to clients, then the first nine months can be skipped - we have been through that already, and the construction itself takes much less time.
When ordering a house from us, the foundation has to be ready and then it takes about 4 to 6 months to finish the construction. With a handy main contractor it is even possible to finish the house with 3 months.



 

If someone orders a house from you, what do they get?


We sell A-frame house kits.

As a basic configuration we give the frame of the building (windows, doors and the undercoating of the roof) so it is possible to assemble the building envelope.
It is also possible to have the frame with SIP-panel insulation, which takes only a couple of days.


When buying an A-frame house kit, the client has to take care of the foundation, infrastructure and interior finishing. We offer the roof as well, meaning that clients get a fully prefabricated building.

The large packages arrives at the construction site. The builders then raise the triangular frame on the foundation, followed by the roof boarding, then the insulation, and so on.

It is not a modular building with all the rooms ready-made where only the modules need to be joined (and which therefore have much higher prices per square meter).



Large windows on the southern facade open up views to the surrounding forest 




Would an average handyman be able to accomplish the construction on his own?


Yes, It is possible, as our drawings are very simple. So if you really would like to have the hands-on experience of building your own house then it would be a reasonable choice.
Our sales are based on the fact that our frames have been thoroughly constructed in collaboration with engineers and architects and this part can thus be skipped.

 



You were collaborating with architect Tiit Sild – what kind of advice did he give?


The house is now much more functional and also more stylish. There is more light inside as we went for full-length windows and changed the locations of the doors, as he suggested. In addition we opted for the same size windows on both sides of the building, which saves expense during production as well as during construction.




You will soon be celebrating the first half year in your new home – what is your impression?


I am very pleased - the building is warm and functional, and as I previously lived in a very small house, so the contrast is noticeable. I was amazed by the functionality of my new house – it has a floor area of just a little more than 70 square meters, yet it is more than enough for three people. Not once have we had moments of regret, we have everything and nothing is lacking.
The heating uses firewood: there is a heat-proof wall and a very efficient Italian cast iron stove that keeps the house warm for about a day and a half in one go.



Pre A-Frame era sauna and A-Frame era shed in Indrek's courtyard



When did you came up with the idea to start selling this type of house to others?


My whole working career has been based on designing and selling wooden houses so already during the construction phase I was thinking how, if everything turns out well then, I would start offering it to others. We have now been marketing the house for couple of months and there are already couple of houses in production, all within a very short time. 

 

Our main focus is on export. Yesterday we were negotiating with our potential re-sellers in Japan and South Korea – they have grand plans. We are sticking to our schedules and can manage on our own.

 





There is tight competition in the housing market, why should one choose an A-frame house from Avrame?


In the Estonian market we have mainly been asked for summer houses as the economic welfare is quite high and people are looking for something larger and more interesting for a dwelling. Our concept lies in a very reasonable solution: the design is not cool, but first and foremost it is very functional.

 

When the next economic recession hits, then the A-frame would do well as a dwelling. Soviet era people tend to think of private houses as a luxury, but actually a house is still just a necessity and it should be affordable also in terms of lower budgets. It is easy to go for a bank loan, but when times are harder, then people are willing to contribute more themselves – this is where the saving comes from.




When ordering a house from you now at the beginning of the summer, would it be possible to move in for Christmas?


Absolutely, there are no obstacles on our side.




Interview by Liina Pulges (www.unistusteagentuur.com

Most of the awarded design proposals of the Lasita Maja architectural design contest come from Germany

After profound discussions the international Jury of the Lasita Maja architectural design contest came to the decision to announce the winners as following:
The 1st prize goes to Alucoli by Aleksandra Wódka-Kaszubska from Poland;
The 2nd prize goes to Fivefold Room by Riccardo Mariano from Germany;
The 3rd prize goes to Nest by Philipp Jacob and Eerika Alev from Germany.
In addition two honorable mentions were nominated as following:
Bognym by Ognyan Parvanov Krastev from Bulgaria, and
W7072 by Sven Aretz, Roman Krükel and Sophie Schulten from Germany.

The Jury did also decided to point out two projects as extra mentions (without prize fund):
Pieceful by Miguel Huelga de la Fuente and Iria de la Peña Mendez, Sukunfuku Studio from Spain
Pikkabiin by Matthew Springett, Alex Taylor, Harrison Dunn, Kate Slattery, Jacob Valvis, Matthew Springett Associates Ltd from UK.

The 1st prize will be awarded 3000 EUR, the 2nd prize will be awarded 2500 EUR, the 3rd place will be awarded 2000 EUR, and the honorable mentions will be awarded 500 EUR each. The prizes will be taxed according to the legislation of Estonian Republic and will be disbursed within 1 month from the announcement of the competition winners.

The members of the Jury were Mr Stefan Straif (Austria) and Mr Franck Mauxion (France) as the representatives of Lasita Maja AS, and Estonian architects Ms Sille Pihlak, Mr Karli Luik and Mr Raul Kalvo.

Mr Franck Mauxion (OLG France, Managing Director) concluded that Lasita Maja AS is very satisfyed with the results of the contest and is looking forward to enter the market with the winning design next year.

All together 49 entries from 24 different countries were submitted to the Lasita Maja architectural design contest. All the submitted design proposals can be seen online at the homepage of the contest: http://katus.eu/lasita-competition/submissions

Please download final protocol of the Jury from here.

Additional information:
Mr Tiit Sild, architect and the member of the organizing team
Phone: +372 5560 1425
E-mail: tiit.sild@katus.eu

Sneak peek into the work of the competition Jury

Jury members Stefan Straif, Franck Mauxion, Sille Pihlak, Raul Kalvo and Karli Luik

The conclusions of the Jury - the contest was successful and there are several great solutions 


Alltogether 49 entries from 24 countries were submitted to the contest. Five entries were received within short time after the deadline and the Jury decided to take them into consideration as well.

All the submitted entries were presented to the jury members well before the meeting so that they could take their time to properly study the design proposals - as a result 26 entries out of the 49 got the initial approval from at least one of the jury members and thus were included in the final discussion at the meeting of the Jury. However, the Jury took time to go through all the projects in order to have fresh opinion and not to lose any potential blockbuster designs.


The meeting of the international Jury took place on February 23rd 2017 in the headquarters of Lasita Maja AS, Estonia. At the end of the long and intense meeting the Jury concluded that the architectural design contest of Lasita Maja AS was successful and the winning projects have potential to conquer the market.

 

All the members of the Jury were presented at the meeting: Mr Stefan Straif (Austria) and Mr Franck Mauxion (France) as representatives of Lasita Maja AS, and Estonian architects Ms Sille Pihlak, Mr Raul Kalvo and Mr Karli Luik.

 

The decision of the Jury was based on the presumption that the winning designs would be readily producible, that they introduce new qualities to the existing market of prefabricated garden cabins and that they would have potential to become best sellers.

The discussions were fierce because the opinions of the Jury members in most of the cases tended to be quite the opposite - from the perspective of sales and producibility to the perspective of innovation and architectural design.


Working scene of the Jury 


Mr Stefan Straif (Gartenpro GmbH, Managing Director in Austria and Hungary)

To be honest I did not expect such a good outcome because actually we had no idea how many entries would be submitted. There were some very good design ideas and also some really well elaborated conceptual ideas.

I absolutely like the winning project because it is a very flexible system - we are hoping to have a ready-made prototype within the next half a year and to enter the market with it next year.

For me the overall outcome is perfect and very nice.

 

Mr Franck Mauxion (OLG France, Managing Director)

Our aim with the contest was to find new best seller(s) for the next five years. The most difficult task for the Jury was to eliminate the design proposals that would not sell on the market and those which at the moment are not producible at Lasita Maja AS.

There were at least dozen very good ideas and many design teams understood our needs. We found some very good ideas that we could implement soon.

Personally I was surprised by the project that was nominated for the second place - we can not produce it right now but I do hope it will make to the market in the next 2 or 3 years.

I am completely satisfied with the contest and its results.

 

Ms Sille Pihlak, architect (Estonia)

I would like to compliment the organizers of the contest for creating such a good opportunity to bring innovation into local lumber industry scene with the intention to actually put the outcome into production here as well. Estonia should develop its own signature via such small-scale structures instead of copying the well-known type of Alpine cottage. This contest is first step towards the situation where raw material is valued locally via design before it gets exported from the country.

 

Mr Raul Kalvo, architect (Estonia)

The contest was complicated in the terms that several projects did not actually consider the specific production possibilities of the factory and the Jury had to decide whether to include these entries in the final evaluation or to dismiss them. In the end the same aspect was regarded rather as positive, because also some of the winners did not follow the producibility requirements. All the winning design proposals each had its own qualities that proved equally interesting for the architects as well as for the representatives of the producer.

 

Mr Karli Luik, architect (Estonia)

The contest was complicated, because on one hand the participants had to come up with something that would be easy to produce and which at the same time would be innovative in terms of spatial qualities as well as technologically. There were very different projects - some of them were concentrating more on esthetical appearance when others aimed to create well producible systems.  

For sure the contest should be regarded as successful, because there were many interesting projects. Within such a format it is actually difficult to come up with something unprecedented. It is hard to combine good looks with spatial variety and with the wish of the customer to have something simple, inexpensive and feasible.

The typology of the prefabricated houses is actually important when to think of how much actually is produced in the factories and at the same time how much the design aspect is left unnoticed. However, it is design that has a direct influence on the space wehere we live and this is where the attention should be turned to. This contest is a great initiative and I do hope that something will really be implemented.


The winners are listed here

Please download final protocol of the Jury from here.


Interview by Liina Pulges from Unistusteagentuur

Lasita Maja: "Our goal is to stand out".

CEO of Lasita Maja Kaido Maisvee, photo by Väinu Rozental (Äripäev)
As the result of an international design contest Mr Kaido Maisvee, the CEO of Lasita Maja, would like to establish a product line that would be distinctive among competitive traders and at the same time would be simple to produce. "We are looking for interesting designs that could be produced industrially."

How would you position yourself in the European garden cabin market? Do you consider yourself innovators or reproducers?

 

This industry – making garden cabins – in general means copying. When you come out with something new then usually the success lasts for a couple of years; often ‘innovation’ just means changing the dimensions by a couple of centimetres. " We aim to be different." This is why we initiated the competition. We are looking for improvements that others do not offer. We want to diversify our products.

Experiment with new type of corner joint. 

In many countries the sales of garden cabins is based on department stores, which rely on cheap mass production. As our customer is a big organisation they think that they can dictate everything. Every year they ask for the same or even lower prices. We have to find ways to deal with this and so we need to do something new in a different way. It is very hard to say what exactly this is, but we do have high hopes for the present competition.

 

What kind of result would meet your needs?

 

Currently we do not have an architect in our team. Often people tend to see innovation as something that has to be visible and has to have the wow factor. But sometimes it just means a small nuance that has not been considered before. Every now and then we have been asked to have more glass (larger windows) in our houses – so that the constructions would be wide, light-weight and full of light. However, in reality it does not work like that  - you can’t just take a house, remove one wall and replace it with glass – this is not innovation, it’s not how product development works. For us it is good when we create one product line with good marketing potential. Then we are pleased.

 

Perhaps you will also find yourself a chief designer?

 

I would definitely not exclude that option. This is the kind of question we have been asking ourselves constantly. Timber is a good material and it is possible to produce almost anything out of it. With the competition we are looking for interesting design(s) that could be industrially producible. All these aspects are covered in the contest design brief.

 

OptiCut production line is used for cutting different wooden parts according to desired length measures

What are currently the main channels through which you find clients and sell products?

 

There are horticultural exhibitions, where we have not participated recently because it is quite expensive and we have not had a significant product to present. The traditional approach is to issue annual catalogues where new items are marked out as such, indicating either new products or special design items. Labelling something ‘design’ usually brings higher sales. In addition there is our webpage, in addition to which we do sell quite a lot via online retailers. Or products are represented on 20-30 different webpages all across Europe which, when they are presented in the right way they, means they will be noticed.

  • Tiit Lubi, quality assurance manager showing how Lasita Maja cabins stand together


If I were to buy one of your items from a department store or order it online, how would I receive the end product?

 

According to our standard the client will receive all the components packed onto pallets together with installation instructions that describe all the necessary steps, for example requirements for the foundation, etc. We do not offer installation as a service ourselves, although many of our resellers do. We can also recommend installation services when requested. In most European countries we are able to deliver our products directly to the customer.

Tenon production line - the last process in the production of the wall details is cutting the tenons into logs

Is it possible to say that the preferences of Estonians differ from those of other Europeans?

 

This is hard to compare as only small percentage of our production is sold in Estonia. Estonians are looking either for very cheap or for exceptional (i.e. custom-made) solutions that remain out of the industrial production range. However, from country to country customer preferences are very different. The design of garden cabins is not important in France, as the majority of customers are looking merely for a storage space. The Germans, on the other hand, have diverse expectations - they are looking for cabins as storage spaces, as garages, as barbeque houses, as recreation spaces, etc. What we sell in Germany overlaps greatly with Estonian preferences.

 

Back when we started the majority of our cabins had wavy and carved fascias. Today, however, this has become history and our clients prefer clear lines and modern looks.

Almost end of the process in factory: packaging

Piles of wooden windows designed and produced at Lasita Maja


How long would such a building last in our climate?

 

I have had a shed storage unit since 2000 and it is still up and running. I have just had to remove some moss from the roof a couple of times.

 

What are your most popular models at the moment?

 

When we look at our production output then it would be one of the models made for a French department store that sells the most. But as this department store has in total 330 outlets, and when each of them orders 3 or 4 models, then we already have more than 1000 units per order. However, this does not say anything about popularity.

From our own production range the highest sale numbers are for a modern series of flat roofed houses.

Sealing process of cabin packages. Everything is included - from wall elements and windows to smaller details (even screws)

 

What is the situation like in Estonia - is it still profitable to produce your buildings in Estonia or are you already looking for options to relocate your factories in order to reduce labour costs?

 

No, currently we have no plans to expand or relocate further east. There is still a lot we can do here in Estonia. At some point back at the end of 1990s I went to a timber-related exhibition in Belgium and they were speaking enthusiastically about Estonia. Despite our 50-year black hole we have retained our knowledge and skills in treating and working with timber. This is also relevant on the level of engineering and technical solutions. We see quite often that a well-designed machine is presumed to produce wooden details with identical dimensions, but it should not be forgotten that timber is still what we call a living material.

FSC in package stands for Forest Stewardship Council, an international organization which promotes responsible management of the world’s forests.The FSC logo indicates that the product comes from responsible sources, it is environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable.

When considering current media issues in Estonia one could assume that all Estonian forests will be cut down there are even support groups in Facebook and actions held to protect Estonian forests. How do you see that whole situation?

 

I think that the way the media has presented this topic has become a bit histrionic. The forests also need improving. If we talk about taking down the forests without replacing them, that of course would be an abuse, but when the trees get old they need to be taken down. Young trees will always replace the old ones. The consumption of timber in Estonia does not rely merely on Estonian forests. We do import quite a lot of material because the current chopping rates in Estonia are not enough. Therefore we cannot base our whole production on Estonian timber, as we use a lot of whitewood and not that much redwood.

 

Where do you get your timber?

 

We use around 40% Estonian timber and the rest comes from Finland and Russia.

 

Lasita Maja has been operating for 18 years, in which time you have become one of the largest exporters of wooden houses in Estonia. How did this all start?

 

I was engaged in other areas and bought windows from an enterprise called Lasita Aken for different buildings. In 1997 they invested in new machinery and were looking for extra applications for their equipment and grounds. They asked me if I would join them and establish a company producing wooden prefabricated houses. We started off in one of their factories producing both private houses as well as garden cabins.

Sealed packages of Lasita Maja cabins waiting for shipment

Recently you became part of the Dutch company Outdoor Life Group, which is one of the largest companies selling garden cabins in Europe. How was this decision made?

 

The Dutch have their production in the Netherlands and in Hungary, and production in the Netherlands is pretty expensive. They were looking for a solution to increase their production capacity. We had spare capacity together with a significant client base and no overlapping clients. This meant two solutions in one go. We spent almost one and a half years negotiating, and in 2014 they got the hold of 40% of Lasita Maja shares. The initial plan was to collaborate for the next 3 to 5 years and then proceed with the sale of the whole company. However, things went faster than that and already in the spring of 2016 they got hold of the remaining 50% of the shares. I kept 10% of the shares for motivation and in addition was entrusted with the development of the enterprise structure in Europe. I have to admit that they have succeeded in making the job interesting for me.

 

What changes were there in the Estonian factories and in your job management as a result?

 

Not much has changed – there is a board with one member from the Netherlands and two members from Estonia, and the Dutch do not interfere with the daily running of what we do. When the general plan is in place, then the local administration is free to decide on everyday issues. Our people, except for me, possibly do not even realise that something has changed.

 

Have you thought of changing the name of the brand as "Lasita" does not have a meaning?

 

On the contrary, the Dutch group has decided that their brand is the Estonian "Lasita Maja" as our quality is highly prized in Europe.


Interview: Liina Pulges (www.unistusteagentuur.com)
Translation: Tuuli Tsahkna
Photos: Tiit Sild

Lasita Maja Cabin contest

Katus.eu together with Lasita Maja AS are launching an international architectural design contest for finding new and innovative solutions for modern prefabricated cabins and garden houses.

The object of the architectural design contest is to find innovative solutions for small-scale modular log and/or wooden cabins that have been developed in collaboration with architects, and that could be produced by AS Lasita Maja and distributed in Estonia, Germany, France and elsewhere.

In addition, the purpose of the contest is also to raise awareness among architects about the modern technologies and possibilities of prefabricated cabins, as well as to increase the export of AS Lasita Maja.

Member of the jury, architect Sille Pihlak: “The lumber industry has an important role in Estonian economy in terms of its workforce, machinery and production capacity. Log cabins that have not been designed by architects or any kind of wooden substance that we export and that has not been “touched” by designers retreats to nothing more than just being raw material.

When the real estate developers and lumber industry would regard architects (and designers) as their everyday partners, the value of the initial stock would increase and the much needed innovation would come by in more than one economical field.

This can be easily achieved when we would combine the professionalism of our architects and the industries with the knowledge of local resources.

The present contest is a search for talents who would - in collaboration with industries who use local materials - add value to their production. This kind of product development allows us to achieve more and to defy competition both on the local an on international markets.”

 

The winners of the design contest will be invited for long-term collaboration to develop series of modular prefabricated cabins.

 

The competition brief has been approved by Estonian Association of Architects.

 

The deadline for submitting the design proposals is February 7, 2017 and the winners will be announced within a month.

 

The bonus fund available for the competition is 8500 EUR and it is divided as following:

1st prize – 3000€, 2nd prize – 2500€, 3rd prize – 2000€, and 2 honourable mentions each 500€.

 

There are five members in the jury: Stefan Straif (Gartenpro GmbH, Austria) Franck Mauxion (OLGFrance, France) Karli Luik (architect, Estonia) Raul Kalvo (architect, Estonia) and Sille Pihlak (architect, Estonia).


Please register to competition here

A new way to customise your home - house configurators

Katus proudly presents the first 3D house configurator for the Tube house. The Tube house configurator lets you to pick and choose between different floor layout options and material finishes. You can add a master bedroom, choose a larger kitchen or even add a second floor to the house. If you are willing to rent out a part of your future home, you can add an apartment unit. Try it yourself on https://house.creatomus.com/project/tube
The configurator lets home buyers to customise the design to suit their needs and the budget. While all design decisions are displayed in the interactive 3D model, the cost of each decision is immediately reflected in the total price for the selected design. Once happy with the configuration customers can save the design for further communication with the manufacturer and the architect of the house.
Tube house has several possible configurations. From 1-bed 130m² single family home to 3-bed 230m² house with a rentable apartment unit.


The Tube house configurator is built on the back of Creatomus’ (www.creatomus.com) novel web technology that is addressing a gap in the housing market - buying and selling custom homes online isn’t currently available. Or at least, it was not until now! Modern 3D web technologies enable something that was unthinkable mere 5 years ago - view and manipulate 3D geometry directly in your browser. In recent years there has been a rapid the rise in the development of WebGL applications by both large corporations such as Autodesk and by small start-ups like Modelo.

Photo by Martin Siplane

The idea of developing house configurators was originally conceived during a hackathon in 2015 where the founders of the company spotted that, unlike car and other product configurators, house configurators are hard to come by. Creatomus decided to address this gap in the market and after a year of software development now delivers house configurators for home manufacturers, architects and housing developers.










Click to create your own Tube house

The benefits of prefabricated home. Value your time and focus on quality. An interview with owner, manufacturer and architect.

Back in spring we met at Timbeco factory near Tallinn to discuss how the collaboration between the client, architect, manufacturer and constructor contributes to the establishing of modern houses. Our panel discussion was attended by architect Tiit Sild, Madis Lobjakas and Marek Roostar from the factory, and the undersigned. The main focus was on the question how to involve all the partners right at the beginning of the process so that designing, producing and building would be more reasonable and economical.

Meeting with the client and visiting the first built house purchased at katus.eu took place a bit later, at the beginning of the summer. 

From the left: Madis Lobjakas, Marek Roostar, Tiit Sild and Katrin Koov



How did you meet?

Madis: We had met with Tiit already before this private residence project - a year ago at the Ajujaht competition. He introduced us his idea of the architecture portal katus.eu, and then we had a common client who came to us via katus.eu.

Tiit: katus.eu is a sales environment and I was interested in how the process of selling houses to the clients actually works.


The terrace opens to the evening sun, complemented with trees of the existing fruit grove



Architecture can be as innovative as is the client. Do you find those somewhat "bothersome" clients who make you search for new solutions motivating?

Madis: In the perfect case it would be nice to be able to combine interesting ideas with available budget, and then things will get interesting. Yet it would be also wrong to say that good architecture is always expensive. It is important to collaborate.

"Tube" has adaptable design. Master bedroom (on right from living room) could be autonomous unit, for grandma, teenage child or just to rent out in Airbnb.


One story prefab home looks modest from the street, only dining room has bigger windows.



We know several emancipated women from the past who, as clients, have helped to improve architecture (f.e. the clients of the most well-known houses by F.L. Wright and M. van der Rohe have been women). What is the role of women as clients for private residence in Estonia?

Madis: Usually it is the man who attends the meetings and the woman is the one who makes the decisions. Women are also the ones who make the research beforehand. During the project we might not even meet the woman, but actually it is her who makes the choices.

Tiit: When speaking of private residences, then everything depends on what the family is looking for. And this in turn relies on (the roles of) the family members.




What would be an ideal employment relationship between the manufacturer and the architect?

Madis: It must be possible to (actually) build the house. At the same time we would not like to set up numerous restrictions to the architect. We would like to start with the completed version of the architectural design documentation and not deal with the modifications. After all, there will be changes in the construction for sure, and those solutions will be found together with the architect.

Tiit: As an architect, first of all I try to find something (interesting) for myself as an architect and as an individual - I seek to evolve and learn new things through the process. At the same time it is important for me to create good experience for the client so that in the future he / she would also dare to collaborate with architects and developers.

Marek: The clients are always ready to make the decisions when they know the price - how much it all would cost them. But when the factory seeks for ready-made architecture as the base for their calculations, then the client is clearly left aside. In an ideal world all the three partners would sit behind the same table from the very beginning and discuss all the details - what and how - from the scratch

Evening sun



When thinking of prefab houses, then one almost has to think of the mass produced standard design houses. But your approach is more like tailoring instead of mere production?

Madis: It is true that we have not made two buildings that are identical. Even when they might look very similar from outside, the interior has always its own personal touch. Which means that every building has its own design. Our clients are not looking for standard solutions to adjust themselves with. Those kind of people will look into the catalogues.

Tiit: I have understood that for you producing private residences is a refreshing change from the factory's main work process which is to produce prefabricated wall and floor panels for apartment buildings.

Madis: To be true - producing custom-design architectural solutions is actually just a part of our activities - to ensure stability. And it is also useful for developing new solutions for Estonian market. We export mainly prefabricated details. Estonian market makes up around 5-10% of our total output. And still we are just one of the few who contribute to Estonian market. In addition to different development projects, we produce around 10 private residences per year. When looking at the participants of the Estbuild international building fair, then there are not many Estonian factories of prefabricated houses represented.


Why to build with timber?

Madis: Timber has been used for building from the beginning of time. Stone as building material in Estonia was introduced much later. Today the market between timber and stone as building materials is divided almost equally. Timber as building material bears much more possibilities than stone. But of course, it has its restrictions too. The main restrictions lie in the legislation. For example - it is possible to build with timber just up to certain heights. What makes timber specific is its lamination - timber constructions by their nature are very technical, especially when it comes into details.

Tiit: When the choice has already been made between timber and stone, then I highly recommend to decide upon prefabricated houses, as the production methods in the factory allow higher precision that it would be possible on the construction site. And even though at first the price for prefab solutions seems higher, then in the end there is no real difference - provided that the builder on the site has a legal contract.

Marek: With the legal settlement the end price for the prefabricated house might be even lower. When to follow the modern standards for energy efficiency, then the quality difference is obvious. Not to mention the interior climate. Also, there is the question about historical preferences - Timbeco is one of the oldest manufacturers of pre-fabricated timber houses, 25 years ago we started with log houses. The growth of Timbeco resembles the section of the development of Estonian lumber industry: starting with manually crafted logs, then continuing with machine-crafted logs and modular houses to achieve higher energy efficiency. Timber has been valued more and more, and it has brought about the involvement of more labour as well.












All pannels of the walls and ceilings are fabricated and insulated  in  factory to ensure high quality. After that they are carefully packaged until set up in construction site.


The same question goes to the architect. You could use all the materials, but you prefer timber?

Tiit: Because of its strength it has been quite a conscious decision to start offering timber to my clients. Partially also because I myself wanted to learn more about timber and to develop what we have here in Estonia - using timber in construction and contribute to innovative solutions. At the same time, using local and renewable resources helps to reduce the ecological footprint. Couple of times I have succeeded in my convincing.


It seems that the new generation of architects is more interested in new technologies. There have been experiments to use robots to build timber constructions and several results may be seen in public urban space.

Marek: Architect has quite an important role when choosing the material(s). The clients often tend to be confident in their vision that at times may go back to their childhood, but architects are the ones we can collaborate with by introducing our production facilities.

Madis: Awakening is a long-term process, the results cannot be seen at once. One of the smart moves we made is offering the possibility to come and see how the large "lego" pieces of your house are being made. Also the clients of this house came to see the process and tried to guess where the pieces would fit. Approximately half of our clients use the possibility to come and visit us during the working process.

Tiit: Another issue is the speed of producing the details - the elements for one building may be ready just within couple of days. The complication lies in finding that free time to produce these details in-between the process of manufacturing main products.


In which direction the producing of prefab houses is currently moving?

Madis: Our goal is to deliver as ready-made products as possible which means enlarging our completeness. The change on the construction site should lie in the amount of necessary workload that would be replaced with prefabricated details. In Norway we are currently involved in a project for 18-story building where all the exterior walls have been prefabricated. When these details are mounted, the result is already airtight and with finished surface. This means remarkable saving in terms of the budget. In addition it also guarantees good energy efficiency. The goal is not to build all the houses from timber. It is reasonable to use proper materials where necessary, for example to combine timber with concrete frames.

Marek: This is where the design gets complicated - the designers need to know all the materials and how to combine them. Sales teams need to bring in people with engineering backgrounds to be able to explain the solutions to the clients. And the production has to be flexible in order to be able to fit together all the different materials. All the departments have their challenges.


View from living room to corridor and kitchen (opening on right)



Katriin Hõim - interview with the landlord


We have just been visiting the construction site and we were wondering how well the building that you have chosen from the website (katus.eu) fits exactly to this site. This brought us to the question - which was first - the site or the design?

By the way, our neighbour has also told me how grateful he is for our house that fits in so well into the surrounding environment. In our case, it all happened at the same time - we were looking for the site near Tallinn and also followed katus.eu website. This design was the only one that both of us - me and my husband - liked. Then we brought the site and got in touch with Tiit. At the same time we were also looking for possible manufacturers.


How long was the whole process?

Two years - it took us one year to sell our previous house and find the new site. When we had found the site, it took exactly one year until the house was finished. We did spent quite some time at the municipality with all the required paperwork.


How did this happen that the house fits so well to the site?

Initially we intended to place the house to the site at another angle - 90 degrees shifted from what it is now. But then we understood that the present position is logistically better. From the street the house looks nothing special and one could even say it is just another box. It does not raise any interest in passers-by. But on the other side it offers extensive views into the garden. We have been told that it is an interesting house, because it is not easy to comprehend its real size. The sections of the building are so different. We like that when sitting in the living-room it is possible to see the sky, moon and the stars.  

Big livingroom window facing west


Aeral photo of the site



It is very nice that the beautiful old garden with all its apple-trees and flowerbeds has been preserved and that the house was inserted into existing environment. It seems that also the construction team has shown respect to this and almost tip-toed around the building. How was the collaboration with the architect?

Everything went very well. During the design phase our collaboration was pretty intense, but later, during the construction phase we did not meet so much. At the beginning we positioned the modules in many different ways to see which is the best configuration. We positioned the bedroom under the lime, which turned out to be very good decision - this is the sheltered side of the site. One familiar person with pendulum came for a visit and was also commenting the good placement of the house. He/she even asked who helped us and we had to reveal that it was because of the "requirements".

House faces west, and greenery of the pre-existing garden creates safe and cosy atmosphere.


Tiit: When Katriin sent in the inquiry I looked up the site on the map and placed the house on it in scale and I instantly saw that it was a perfect fit. The first version of the design had a garage at one end, but we replaced it with bedroom.


When did the producer got involved and which were their conditions?

They were involved right from the beginning. The first thing they proposed was to make the living-room narrower by half a meter in order to avoid the need for gluelaminated beams and thus optimize the production.


Did you have previous experiences with building your own house and if so, how does the current experience differs from the last one?

We bought our previous house when it was already half-built, we did not have much money and the construction team was made up pretty randomly. I myself had to lead the whole project. Compared to that the present situation is more than perfect - the producer and the construction team is the same, they settled everything for me and I only had to pick the colours.




Visit the original project here.


Interview by Katrin Koov, president of

Estonian Association of Architects


Photos by Martin Siplane

Photos from the factory by Katriin Hõim

Drone photo by Tiit Sild


Original article in Estonian was published in "Maja" architectural magazine

How much does it cost to build a house?

With each choice you make, you can reduce your costs on housing exponentially and thus, leave more money for living, traveling or buying that new car you've had your eye on.


Do you know the saying "building a home is higher mathematics"?


Based on the amount of information you are supposed to work through when making a decision, the saying is accurate - only by carefully analyzing every detail can you be sure of a successful deal. Needless to say: the salesmen are people too, so the more you know, the better it is.



Transporting elements of prefab home by Elumaja LLC in Tartu Estonia.

Do your homework!

The best (and the simplest) way to get a feel for the potential price of your home (an approximate square footage price) is to look around in your neighborhood: ask around, consult real estate brokers (consultation is usually free), ask your friends, search the web - the more insight you have, the better deal you are likely to make.
After you have calculated an average square footage cost, you will multiply that cost by the finished square footage of your house plan to get a rough estimate. Simple as pie!

Assembly of first spatial unit of prefab home by Elumaja LLC.

An easy and a fast way to get the idea about costs is to compare your future house price with the new houses on sale in your area. Look at newly constructed homes that are similar in size, style, quality, and features to the home you want. Take the price of the home, deduct the price of the land, and divide that amount by the square footage of the home. More exact method would be calculating a construction budget item-by-item.
Here’s a budget template to help you out.

Go to the source (no middle-men)


It's a well-known fact, but the more middle-men you use the higher the price will be. Easy, right? Not really!

On average, a person uses about 3 to 4  different middle-men to get a product or a service. A solution to this is simple. For example, instead of going to a supermarket to get all of your groceries (dairy products, meat, veggies), you could visit local farmers to get the stuff. By doing so, you'll 'cut out' the purchasing managers, transportation and the grocery stores themselves, reducing the price of your food at the same time.

The same applies to housing. You could buy a fully furnished house and just worry about moving in. Or you could buy house plans off the internet (there are many such sites on the web) and let a local contractor build it.

Or you could build a house yourself. If DIY is a mystical combination of letters that makes no sense to you whatsoever, try building a greenhouse. It really is that easy!

By the way: buying stuff from the source (manufacturer) is the next big thing!

Less is more


The most expensive areas in a home are the bathrooms and the kitchens: the number of windows and/or doors their size and quality can and will also affect the cost. as can vaulted ceilings and high roof pitches.

Long story short: many houses are just too "bling" having excess features or elements, that will drain money during the construction and after you have moved in.

Assembling second unit of prefab home by Elumaja LLC.

In different parts of the world the housing culture varies a lot: in Scandinavia, for example, people are interested in a more natural living, focusing on keeping the costs down and the environment clean. Other parts of the world still seem to be hooked on the notion, that bigger is better. In terms of showing off, yes - that is exactly right. But in terms of living?

Some final details need to be fixed and there it stands, ready to move in.

If you have a house that is expensive to build (mortgage) and expensive to maintain (time&money), how come is that an investment for you and your family? It seems more of an investment for the banks and/or real-estate developers, not you?

The truth is, a house can be built for less than $35,000 and at the same time, it can cost more than $3,500,000 - it's all up to you.

Just remember: a good home doesn't have to be expensive, but an expensive home doesn't have to be good.

Photos by Tiit Sild

Kodasema shows the future of home building.

Small prefabricated house from a company called Kodasema has been erected on the lawn in front of the Tallinn Creative Hub. It is a rather unique house with 27 square-metres of usable floor space, built-in cupboards and several surfaces for functional cross-usage (e.g. shower area is also used as a sink). I will be talking to Ülar Mark, one of the creators of Kodasema house concept, about the way they are trying to change the world while also hoping to shake the foundations of housebuilding industry.


Members of Kodasema searching for a name for the initiative.


Tiit Sild: Kodasema is a village in Roosna-Alliku Parish in Järva County that is just about everything Wikipedia has on the place. What is Your Kodasema?

 

Ülar Mark: Yes, there is a village and our name comes from there. In fact, the house built by Kodasema can only be a KODA.

The whole house is designed the way you could easily assemble and disassemble it. First assembly of Kodasema house took place in the factory.

During TAB (Tallinn Architecture Biennale), you invited us to participate in a three-hour discussion group. The topic was “Footprints” and the discussion revolved around new technologies, the future of building industry, lifecycle of buildings, business models in housebuilding industry, tax fraud in building construction and ecological footprint created by a person over his or her lifetime. Such a global subject matter discussed by people with interesting opinions, created a perfect atmosphere for ambitious ideas. You organised 5 separate three-hour discussion groups for people with different backgrounds. What was the aim of these discussions?

Ülar: Our aim was to look at the concept of residential construction in a wider and more holistic manner. The main challenge, as is the case with our KODA project, was to avoid the trap of “it has always been done this way”. The world and the possibilities it offers have changed significantly in the last 20 years. However, construction is a conservative field with a long established network of participants who are not keen on change.

We introduced our work, explained what we do and what we have accomplished after one year in business but also listened to suggestions what to consider while building a place for living.

 

Floor slab of Kodasema house does not need heavy foundation, but correct leveling is important.

Bathroom is located behind the kitchen unit, as well as most of the smart technical solutions and the brain of the house. Preistalled kitchen has a weird appearance in direct sunlight.

but the envelope will be closed only minutes after.


Frontal panel of the Kodasema house is transported and assembled as a whole piece. Precision is important, so the windows and door have no frames.

Setup is complete, let the party begin...

Lighted entrance is acting as a lantern, sending an invitation to curious people walking nearby.

 

Kodasema’s goal is to elevate the production of prefab houses to a completely new level. You often compare it to the automotive industry. What are you doing in a different way compared to, for instance, an ordinary plant that manufactures houses from flat elements?  

The main difference is the reduced or almost eliminated workload on the construction site. A KODA is built in just 3-5 hours and that’s it. It doesn’t even need foundations. The recommended soil preparation consists of spreading a layer of gravel prior to placing the house in position. Plus the exterior and interior decoration panels can be quickly installed. Traditionally interior finishing work is mostly performed on site, after the prefab house is set up, but in our case all of that’s done at the plant. This ensures better quality and lower installation costs. Of course, water supply, electricity and sewerage connections still have to be sorted out. Comparing it to a car factory is fitting, really. Why don’t houses come with sophisticated electronics? Why can’t houses be made with minute precision using robots? Why do all cars have nice, carefully considered designs but most houses seem to be constructed in a hurry, often with no design to see or speak of? It’s a glaring juxtaposition when you remember that a used car usually ends up as scrap within about 15 years, but a house is expected to remain in use for centuries. Logically, houses should have better design and functionality, but sadly the reality is very different.

One of the founders of Kodasema, Ülar Mark (second from the left) is giving a tour to curious visitors.

 

Is Kodasema more like a traditional house manufacturer or a startup that is still looking for its business model?

 

Ülar: Kodasema can rather be described as a startup, that is looking for a new approach to building construction and construction process as a whole. For example, our house does not have window sashes in the traditional sense of the word. They are simply unnecessary since the whole panel itself is the window sash. Usually window openings are designed to be fitted with window sashes at a cheaper price. However, this adds a number of problems: the space between the opening and window frame must be adequate for fastenings, the sash itself must be constructed of chambers, etc. All this in order to fill the opening while actually simultaneously creating thermal bridges.

 

The creators of Kodasema house are six people with completely different backgrounds. Tell us briefly what these people do and what drives them. What brought this group together?

 

At the moment everybody seems passionate about the Koda project. Their backgrounds, however, are indeed very different. Hannes Tamjärv has founded a bank and a school and has been the brains behind a number of endeavours. Taavi Jakobson has made a name for himself in international administration of IT field and is also a writer. Kalev Ramjalg is a Master of building from concrete and a teacher who has also written several plays. Marek Standberg is simply a man of multiple talents ranging from chemistry to drawing comics. Andres Kaur is a project manager who has put up plants. And Ülar Mark, an architect who has, in addition to designing houses, launched the Estonian Centre of Architecture and created theatre design. All in all, it would be quite difficult to find a field this team cannot form an opinion about. Obviously, we also have several people who deal with specific problems: structural designer, designers for ventilation, water and sewerage etc.

 

You are completely devoted to the creation of Kodasema house. The first prototype is ready. What have people´s reactions been? Are they willing to live in Kodasema house?

 

Initial reactions have been overwhelming but we are trying to keep a cool head about it. First of all, we have already determined areas where improvements could be made and secondly, the measure of our success will be the number of Koda houses we manage to sell. I think we are providing a well-thought-out space and it shows. Before long, we shall be testing living in the house at its current location and there is no shortage of volunteers. The first trial will include us and then everyone else who wants to try and give us feedback.  

 

 

Kodasema houses look elegant, light and a little delicate. So what are they made of? What materials are used in KODA’s walls, ceiling and roof?

 

The walls, floor and ceiling are of a similar composition: fibre-concrete on the outside and cross laminated timber boards on the inside, with vacuum insulation between them. All of the elements are joined into a whole using plastic beams. Combinations of concrete and timber like this make interior decoration easier and save plenty of space and materials, because the number of layers is reduced.

Small house needs precision in process. One of the early assembly models showing the connections between house elements. 


In your Kodasema house design solutions you have implemented interesting elements, such as old sailcloth patterns applied to exterior thin fibre-panel wall surfaces in the course of their moulding, resulting in a truly special texture and lightness.

 

That was achieved after months of testing with all sorts of plastics, films and PVC boards.


Team member Marek is experimenting with different patterns to give character to outer appearance of Kodasema.


Final result is appealing and ecological, recycling sailorcloths, capturing their pattern for future generations.


Has the development process of Koda house been slower or faster than expected?

 

We hoped to reach the first prototype sooner but, in hindsight, it has actually been a fast pace process considering that we questioned and considered the necessity and form of almost every detail.

 

Do Kodasema houses need foundations?

KODA doesn’t need foundations. The structure was calculated so as to allow the floorboards to rest anywhere on stones.

First prototype of the sink in bathroom.

 

What are the development stages of a house as a product? How often do you meet?

Looking back, there seems to be a certain rhythm to our work, but during the work process we just did what seemed right to us, often manoeuvring between issues that emerged. We did not held specific meetings, it actually feels like we have been living together for the last year and concentrating only on this project. Initially we worked from 9 to 5 and later almost around the clock. I can´t imagine we would have got even close to our current results, if everybody had worked traditionally at his desk in an office, meeting once or twice a week.

One of the many meetings of Kodasema people, discussing smart technologies involved.


How long does it take for a Kodasema house to be ready - from producing the elements at a plant to actually assembling the house?

The first prototype was ready within a year. At the moment, our aim is 2-3 weeks at a plant.

 

Many similar undertaking have been less than successful. To date there has been no breakthrough in the field of modern modular houses, in terms of both technology and appearance. What makes you different?

 

I could list lots of reasons, I guess. Why can you manufacture cars in modules and not houses? The car market is more uniform; there’s less fluctuation. One of the issues with the construction industry is that real estate booms are interspersed with more subdued periods of demand. Add to that the different wishes of different customers, regional differences and strict regulations of local authorities on building plans and implementation. Then there’s the pricing pressure on the house, which comes from the cost of the plot?  

 











Early 1 to 1 scale  mockup of the house (left) helped to  understand the possibilities of the space and also to figure out more creative solutions.


You have finished the first prototype. What are the main lessons you have learned during the process, how will the next house differ from the first one?

 

The prototype is and will be a test house. During the whole process, we allowed ourselves to make mistakes. If you don´t allow errors, it is very difficult to come up with something new. If the prototype didn´t have any faults, it would have been a wasted opportunity. The main lesson is to remember the simple truth: the importance of a team and their dedication, i.e. time.  In fact, the willingness to dedicate yourself and concentrate on something is on the decline. As a result, original solutions have become scarce. Main emphasis is on cheapness and sales.

 

You are an architect. You gave up working with fellow architects and focused on a new and quite specific field that demands a different set of skills. What is its appeal for you?

 

To me, everything that surrounds us is one single environment. When we build something on this planet or shift materials from one location to another, we should think about how to do it in the best possible way. If there were a better approach or term than architect(ure), I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to use it. I can’t agree to anyone hijacking the concept of architect(ure) and limiting its scope. If I need other skills for more efficient project work, I’ll have to acquire them. I’m fascinated by how deep I can become immersed in my work, thoroughly researching new issues until I find clear and exhaustive answers. After all, an answer to every question we pose exists somewhere out there. Once you achieve the result you want, you should review the initial questions you asked, as they often can and should be rephrased in view of your achievements. That’s something you can do repeatedly, defining your objectives again and again. The conventional practice is for the architect to do the commissioned work and then forget about it ASAP, because tomorrow’s a new day and a whole new world. For various reasons, input from the architect is less and less required in drafting the concept of a building. And later, when construction’s underway, everyone prefers the architect to get involved as little as possible. I was never interested in going down that road. I did try to adjust my attitude, but it never worked.

 

Now that you are involved in product development, how does your workday differ from the time when you worked only as an architect?  

 

More meetings, details, abstract discussions, creativity, doing U-turns and starting things all over. Much less cursing, gossiping, nagging, conflicts and disputes within myself.


What is your next big objective?

 

I am not sure about the next one after we have achieved our first simple objective – build thousands of houses that are becoming better in quality and design and cheaper in price. As a professional I feel more like a car designer than an architect, the only difference being that I also feel responsible for the way the car parks look.  

 

Founders of Kodasema: Hannes Tamjärv, Taavi Jakobson, Ülar Mark, Kalev Ramjalg, Marek Strandberg, Andres Kaur


Photos by: Andres Kaur


Here you can find more information about Koda.


Founder of Kodasema Ülar Mark in the picture below) was interviewed by Tiit Sild (katus.eu). Ülar was also a jury member in the architecture contest of prefabricated houses.


Dekleva Gregorič, Slovenian architects designed cabins for Katus.eu!

Katus.eu is proud to announce cooperation with well-known Slovenian architectural office Dekleva Gregorič. The architects have proposed 3 cabins with distinctive designs meant to be used  as either small living units, summer houses, home offices or saunas. “Dekleva Gregorič is a firm whose individual buildings vary considerably in appearance, because with their conceptually developed projects the architects from Ljubljana respond in a special way to the respective context.” chief editor Christian Schittich in DETAIL 05/2015.

All 3 cabins will be produced as a whole spacial units, are easy to transport and need only lightweight basement or just some supporting stones under constructions. 3 different size designs vary in functionality, but have all plans and terraces that face towards the sun.




Monohouse - M - 20m² is designed according to new Swedish building regulations* and does not need a building permission. The whole living, cooking, dining and sleeping area is one big space that can adapt to your own needs.




The smallest of three designs, Monohouse - S – 14 m² is able to accommodate different functions.



The most spacious one, Monohouse - L - 25m² has space for two double beds and could accommodate up to 4 persons. However, the design enables for a completely empty unit as well, to be used as a shell of any desirable programme of future users.


You can check out all the cabins designed by Dekleva Gregorič right here.


About Dekleva Gregorič architects:


Image: //media.voog.com/0000/0007/0033/photos/06_%20XXS%20house_dekleva-gregoric_photo%20paternoster%20%20copy.jpg


XXS house, photograph Matevz Paternoster


The work of Dekleva Gregorič architects first received international attention with XXS house and was awarded the Silver Plate, European Architecture Award Luigi Cosenza, in 2004, and the WALLPAPER* award, Best breakthrough designers, in 2005. In 2009.


Metal recycling plant, photograph Matevz Paternoster


The Metal recycling plant ODPAD was nominated and shortlisted for the Mies van den Rohe Award 2009, was awarded at the International Architecture Awards 2009, and won Plečnik’s Medal prize in Slovenia among others. In 2009 they also won the international 40 under 40 award from the European Centre for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies.



Clifftop house in Maui, photograph Cristobal Palma


In 2012 the Clifftop house on Maui received 2nd place at the AIT awards, in the Luxury Living category, and at the International Architecture Awards 2012. The same year the office was selected for a Highly Commended group of practices for ’21 for 21′ WAN AWARDS 2012 – searching for “21 architects for the 21st Century. The initiative aims to highlight 21 architects who could be the leading lights of architecture in the 21st Century; outstanding, forward-thinking people and organisations who have the demonstrable potential to be the next big thing in the architectural world.”



Cultural Space of European Space Technologies by Dekleva Gregorič architects together with Bevk Perović architects, OFIS architects and Sadar + Vuga architects. Photograph Tomaz Gregorič


Two of their projects, Housing Perovo and KSEVT (Cultural Centre of EU Space Technologies), were nominated for the Mies van den Rohe Award 2013. Recently, their latest finalized project: Compact Karst House, has been nominated for the Mies van den Rohe Award 2015.


*You can check out the original version Swedish building regulations in Swedish here, but as the text is not yet translated into english, you could get an idea of the content checing this rough translated version (by google translator) here.


Estonians And Lithuanians Win Prefabricated Wooden House Architecture Competition March 24, 2015

The winners of the architecture competition organized by web-based architecture marketplace Katus.eu for prefabricated wooden houses were announced on monday, 23th of March at the Solaris Centre. The winning design for the Stavanger development site in Norway came from Estonian architecture firm ARS Projekt (Rasmus Tamme, Reio Raudsepp, Rene Safin, Evelin Eelmaa, Joonas Saan, Kristjan Männigo, Kristina Oolu, Karolin Kõll) and the winning design for the Ülenurme site near Tartu, Estonia came from the Lithuanian firm Paleka Archstudija (Rolandas Palekas, Dalia Zakaite, Mantas Skirmantas).

The international architecture competition drew 47 entries from 21 countries, the furthest of which came from Taiwan, Australia and the United States. The competition was organized by web-based architecture marketplace www.katus.eu in conjunction with timber house manufacturers Nurban AS and Kodumaja Kinnisvaraarenduse OÜ. The competition was announced last autumn with the goal of finding modern, smart and attractive solutions for two development sites: Svertingstad Gård near Stavanger, Norway and Ülenurme near Tartu, Estonia. The jury selected three winning entries for both the Norwegian as well as the Estonian sites.

 

The main organizer of the competition, Tiit Sild, and his web-based architecture marketplace katus.eu is focused on the idea of making our living environment better. "I believe that there is no reason why a prefabricated house shouldn’t also be a prime example of modern architecture,” Sild said. “An architecture competition was a good opportunity to inspire architects to create modern designs for prefabricated houses out of the most popular construction material in Estonia – wood. Estonia has become Europe’s largest timber house exporter, which gives us the prime opportunity to become a ringleader in the modern architecture and design of wooden houses.”

 

Margus Pauts, member of the jury and Managing Director of timber element and modular house manufacturer Nurban AS says that he’s very satisfied with the results of the competition: “We’re looking for the kinds of houses that people would really want to live in. And I can assure you that the competition was a success because we found just such designs.” Another jury member, Lembit Lump of Kodumaja AS, added that there were many competition entries that he found architecturally intriguing, which accounted for the manufacturing capabilities of the Estonian timber industry.

 

Svertingstad Gård, Norway

 

1st place: 5000€, design NIHE - ARS Projekt OÜ (Rasmus Tamme, Reio Raudsepp, Rene Safin, Evelin Eelmaa, Joonas Saan, Kristjan Männigo, Kristina Oolu, Karolin Kõll) – Estonia (on upper picture left)

 

2nd place: 3500€, design WOODY - 3+1 Architects (Gert Guriev, Markus Kaasik, Riin Kersalu, Kerstin Kivila, Taavi Lõoke, Mihkel Meriste, Andres Ojari, Ilmar Valdur) – Estonia

 

3rd place: 2000€, design RHC1PA - Anna Zukowska Architecture Studio, Maciej Žukowski – Poland

 

Ülenurme, Estonia

1st place: 4000€, key word PRIVATE CIRCLE, Paleka Archstudija (Rolandas Palekas, Dalia Zakaite, Mantas Skirmantas) – Lithuania (on second picture left)

 

2nd place: 2500€, key word SEE, Karisma Arhitektid (Risto Parve, Kai Süda, Margit Valma) – Estonia

 

3rd place: 1500€: key word TRFGHM, Gianluca Pelizzi Pelizziarchitettura – Italy

 

VELUX special mention for best use of roof lighting: 700€, key word BOK-BOK, Veljko Armano Linta, Ana Armano Linta, David Azinović, Ivana Ćavar – Croatia

 

Jury special mention: key word POSTBARN, raumspielkunst Architectural Design & Concepts, Florian Lachenmann – Germany

 

The prize money will be paid out to winner by the Estonian Cultural Endowment and they will be contacted by the competition organizers within 15 days.

 

The competition works will be on display on the second floor of the Solaris Centre, in front of the Apollo bookstore until April 5th.

 

The architecture competition was supported by the Estonian Cultural Endowment, the Estonian Ministry of Culture, Velux, Q-Haus, Fenestra, the Tartu City Government, the Enterprise Department of the Tallinn City Government, entertainment centre Solaris, the Estonian Centre of Architecture, the Norwegian-Estonian Chamber of Commerce, Puukeskus, the Estonian Woodhouse Association and the Enterprise Estonia Regional Development Fund

 

A web gallery of competition works can be seen here.

 

Katus.eu is a web-based architecture marketplace what strives to improve our living environment by bringing together the best of high-quality, modern design with the manufacturers of prefabricated houses. The designs on our website are available to all first-rate house manufacturers.

 

Additional information:

Tiit Sild

Katus.eu

+372 55 601 425

tiit.sild@katus.eu