Katerra’s all-encompassing vision to revolutionize the world of construction, using billions of dollars in investment to build an entirely new production system from the ground up, showcases the stereotypical arrogance of Silicon Valley. It also had a small impact on European models that sought to be retrofitted with a simple, straightforward and standard parts set.
Gerard McCaughey, a serial entrepreneur and founder of Irish off-site construction pioneer Century Homes, said the company shares a blind spot with many U.S. technologists: It ignores innovations pioneered overseas. While the U.S. construction industry favors on-site timber construction using off-the-shelf raw materials—imagine a Ford pickup stacked with a 2×4 rally car—more space- and material-constrained builders in Asia and Europe have perfected prefab and Modular technology. Katerra ignores these examples of slowly building up expertise by focusing only on a specific domain at a time. Instead, it tried to reinvent the wheel, taking every aspect of the complex build process in-house, while building too many different models at the same time, resulting in massive cost overruns.
“It’s not what you know or don’t know that holds you,” said McCaughey, who held talks with Katerra leaders. “There are things they’re dead on and you need to do, but [they were wrong]. Off the field is not a one-trick pony. You have to crawl before you can walk. The least experienced people in my company know more about off-site construction than their senior leaders. ”
The Energiesprong model, which has transformed thousands of homes in the Netherlands and across Europe, relies on Stroomversnelling (the name means “quick acceleration”), a close-knit network of contractors, housing associations, parts suppliers and even financiers – A level of coordination that even Katerra’s massive system can’t match. Currently, the Energiesprog system can redo a building in about 10 days. Other startups and construction companies offer free upgrades: For example, Factory Zero Netherlands makes prefabricated modules for roofs with electric boilers, heat pumps and solar connections. Greening of old buildings is almost plug and play.
It is part of a larger European model that starts with ambitious emissions policies and provides incentives and funding for retrofits and new buildings through programs such as Horizon Europe, effectively subsidizing new building methods and providing Innovative windows, doors and HVAC create market systems. A key factor in its success has been the government’s willingness to fund subsidies and upgrades to public housing, often towers and townhouses in desperate need of post-war improvements. But Europe has other significant advantages: building codes are more standardized across countries and across the continent, including some progressive regulations that drive building codes. passive house Standard, ultra-efficient insulation and ventilation levels, greatly reducing the energy required for heating and cooling. The entire housing ecosystem is also smaller and more standardized, making it easier to support more experiments. Energiesprong uses a single building model, a small number of contractors, and a relatively small number of players in a small area.
In an American city, let alone an entire country, coordination efforts will multiply. “Europe has taken a shotgun approach and fully funded numerous projects,” said Michael Eliason, founder of Larch Lab, a Seattle-based sustainable building specialist, design studio and think tank. Say. It’s a way to spread risk among different ideas, rather than concentrating venture capital on a handful of single-minded, high-growth startups. “America ended up being a sniper rifle,” he said. “Katerra failed, and it affected the entire prefab industry.”
An emerging model in Canada seeks to replicate the European model. CityHousing Hamilton, the municipal housing authority for the City of Ontario, recently used the National Housing Fund to fully renovate the Ken Soble Tower, a disrepaired waterfront seniors high-rise built in 1967.Combining paneled facades, new high-efficiency windows, and electrification of heating and gas stoves, the project brings the building to the passive house Standard; energy usage reduced by 94% due to extreme efficiency, the total energy required to cool and heat one unit is equivalent to three incandescent light bulbs. Elegant new bay windows provide seating, sweeping views and daylight, showing no aesthetic price to pay.
Graeme Stewart of ERA Architects, who led the project and studied hundreds of similar mid-century high-rises in the country, said the project provided business for Canadian companies making high-tech windows and cladding, showing that Such work could help sow the seeds of more green building projects for the domestic industry. He even spearheaded the creation of the Tower Renewal Partnership, an organization dedicated to a similar makeover in Canada. But Sean Botham, development manager at CityHousing Hamilton, said even if they saw all the benefits for the tower residents – better air quality, infection control, mental health and cognitive function, and a “view that wasn’t available in social housing” – — The agency is unlikely to pay an 8% cost premium to upgrade other buildings in its portfolio without more funding.