Agreed, our affordable housing crisis in America has roots as a social, political and economic issue as well. I believe architects thinking “outside-the-box” could improve the situation, however they can not solve this large problem alone. The residential home building industry here is largely what we term “stick built” focused: bring large piles of standard dimension material (mostly wood products) to the job site then cut each one, attach to other members … repeat 10,000 times.
Only a tiny minority of residential homes use prefab or modular construction methods and those few are more expensive per square foot (or psm) than stick-built homes. In the past 15 years in America, dozens of modular residential startup companies funded by venture capital have gone bankrupt, Glide Homes started by well intentioned architect Michelle Kaufman being only the most famous of the medium sized firms and Katerra which produced large multi-family apartment complexes, funded with $3-billion of Softbank and other VC firms capital went bankrupt with 4,000 employees unpaid. More startups keep trying but much of the VC money has dried up. These modular/prefab companies failed for reasons I think are quite logical, having mis-understood both the residential market and more critically: assembly line production as it relates to residential housing modules, which are nothing at all like automobiles …etc.
For a powerful concept such as prefab construction to succeed in the American residential market the approach must be re-evaluated and re-engineered from first principles. Glide Homes built their large but road transportable home modules in a warehouse (they mis-identified as an assembly line - which it was not) using “stick-built” construction methods - wrong choice from the beginning in my opinion. They promised customization for clients that totally broke the fake assembly line almost immediately. They burned thru $350-million in VC money which for a time gave them the luxury of ignoring critical problems with their business and design models. The result was bankruptcy as it was for Katerra on an even larger scale.
I am trying to learn from these recent lessons and from the 100-year history of prefab architecture and am self funded for now thru the design and construction of several prototypes. It is a very difficult and daunting problem … time will tell.