Prefab high-rise living: coming soon to a city near you?

An architecture firm in Seattle has developed sustainable prefab high-rise apartments that would save on building time and costs.

How can cities get more sustainable, affordable housing that's also quick to build? More prefab high-rises, perhaps?

That's exactly what Seattle's Sustainable Living Innovations is working on. Fast Company explains how the buildings -- which will be unveiled later this week -- would save time and money on construction:

Arlan Collins, principal at CollinsWoerman (the architecture firm behind the group) explains that in Seattle, a wood-frame apartment building with parking is $130,000 a unit. It also takes an interminable 36 to 40 months for design and construction. SLI's building costs the same--but it can be designed in less than 20 months. So for the same price as a building featuring a wood frame, vinyl windows, a popcorn ceiling, and an ugly beige carpet, SLI can build a steel-framed building with concrete floor slabs and ample natural lighting, right out of an IKEA catalog.

"From the time we're ready to lift the building, it will only take us 90 days to finish. If you're an observer, this building will go from not being there at all to being done and having someone living in it in four months," says Collins. That's because the SLI design consists of ready-made parts that are put together like an Erector Set on site (see the video below). For people who have seen construction projects languish for years with little progress, this could be something of a miracle.

And because they're prefab, they can build sustainability into each structure. Each unit meets LEED Silver certification. Plus, the firms says their buildings use less building materials than the standard building process. That's due in part because there are no hallways or walls in the apartments -- except around bathrooms and bedrooms.

But sustainability isn't the only consideration. When the recession hit, and construction projects plummeted, the architectural firm was looking for ways to re-invent itself. The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce reports:

“After Lehman (Brothers Holdings) went bankrupt we said ‘we could be out of work,” said Arlan Collins, a principal with the Seattle architecture firm. “It was the fear of ‘what do we do?'

That fear prompted the firm to invent a new approach to design and construction that would appeal to cost-conscious developers and consumers, and give it a competitive edge.

The result? Buildings that cost 25 percent less than using conventional methods. If you live in Seattle you can see a scaled-down model. If not, just check out this video:

And watch how the construction works:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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