The Evolutionary Housing System
Houses expand, contract and evolve by adding, removing or exchanging cores and structural elements

The Evolutionary Housing System is housing for today and tomorrow. Prefabricated, grid-based structural and surface elements create floor plans and style customized to user desires. Functionalities to match resources and needs are supplied with service and utility "cores".

Functionality and use of design
The Evolutionary Housing System can be used to construct new housing, replace substandard or distressed housing, and adapt existing housing to higher levels of quality. With its kit of parts, houses can be custom-designed and adapted over time to changing family needs, technological improvements, increased self-sufficiency, and the evolution of the community.

How did this design improve life?
Global changes -- political, social, economic and technological -- are fueling a demand for improved quality of life. Developed countries and developing countries, rich and poor alike, feel the pressure. The problem affects all because it is one of quality relative to what exists. Those living under the worst conditions clamor for the simplest amenities; those living relatively well demand improvements they see elsewhere. For anyone at all aware, visible strides in science and technology are a constant reminder that a better life is possible, and should be attainable.

Visionary models of "houses of the future" have long been features of world's fairs, expositions and industry promotions, pressing boundaries to show what could be, if ... the if's being social, economic and political thresholds that must be crossed, but seldom are. Despite these barriers, technological developments in manufactured housing and electro/mechanical services over the years have brought a slow but steady progression of improvements in housing to the general public.

The difference today is that the press of exponential population growth is joining with environmental changes to make living conditions a matter of mandatory concern rather than a special project of liberal governments and the socially conscious. Diminishing natural resources from oil to water will directly affect quality of life, and the decline is already beginning to have impact in some parts of the world. Dealing with this will require different approaches to the generation, distribution and use of utilities. Another disturbing change, increased energy in weather and climatic systems, is creating more frequent and more violent natural disasters. As global warming gains momentum, this will require stronger, more protective construction, smarter patterns of home and community design, and resilient systems able to survive unexpectedly disruptive natural events.

The problems are real; not surprises. Yet today, after a century of experimentation with modern prefabrication and system building concepts, housing around the world still tends to be conservatively conceived, wasteful of resources and energy, and unresponsive to the changing needs of those who live in it. Evolutionary Housing addresses these issues and others to point the way to housing improved functionally, environmentally and socially.

Evolutionary Housing can be erected rapidly without extensive on-site labour. Prefabricated components are assembled on site to a prepared foundation laid out on a grid to inhabitants' arrangement needs. Framing is designed to remain stable under difficult environmental conditions. Beginning with a strong, steel, bolt-together skeleton, a house takes form with external and internal wall, floor and roof panels preassembled in modules and fitted to the skeleton on location. All structural and panel elements can be attached and detached to make additions, subtractions and changes to housing configuration easy. Extendibility and replaceability allow growing families to add space as they need it and empty nesters to remove space no longer needed. Interchangeable modules enable families with few initial resources to begin with a small house and expand it progressively as needs occur and resources become available.

Modularity also extends to centers of functionality within the house. Modular "cores", assembled in the factory, centralize the equipment desired for home services; these exist as kitchen cores, bathroom cores, entertainment cores, interaction cores, energy cores, etc. Because they are modular, they, too, contribute to the “adaptivity” of the house. A family deciding it needs less space may disassemble a room and sell or trade in their structural and core modules. Another family, expanding, can purchase these modules refurbished and updated with contemporary equipment. Demolition, waste and construction are avoided; energy and resources are saved.

By some estimates, the construction and operation of buildings accounts for 60% of all energy use. Evolutionary Housing reduces net energy expenditure in the home by using energy more efficiently and drawing on alternative energy sources to generate energy independently. Energy is conserved in the home building process by using efficient manufacturing techniques and recycling house components. Water-saving features such rainwater and gray water recycling reduce the house's demand on water resources.

For most people, housing meets more than basic needs; it provides place and connection to community. With Evolutionary Housing, families do not have to move when they need more or less space. With adaptive framing, walls, floors, roofs and cores, a house can evolve with the family it supports. Designed with sturdiness for a less forgiving environment and self-sufficiency for greater independence in a world of diminishing resources, it offers dependable protection and reliable services for a world in transition.

Drawbacks of life improvement
The Evolutionary Housing system changes the way houses are built, bought and lived in. With changes that extensive, there are likely to be some obstacles and drawbacks to implementation. Some of the more pernicious are given below with comment for how they may be met.

Problems of Localism Prefabricated housing in some countries, primarily the more developed and particularly the U.S., is seriously constrained by an interlocking series of barriers loosely termed "localism".

Financing is usually managed through banks in the form of mortgages, and banks make loan decisions partly on the basis of re-saleability. For the normally conservative bank, this tends to mitigate against anything out of the ordinary, especially advanced designs and uses of technology.

Building codes, created to guarantee good construction, become regressive when they are hostile to new technology and different from similar codes in neighbouring towns and communities. Builders usually have to work to the most restrictive codes if they are to operate across a region, a severe barrier to the best uses of technology.

Restrictive labour practices can make factory pre-assembly untenable and the use of certain materials impossible. Because houses must connect to local utilities, unions frequently have the power to insist on on-site assembly and assembly processes that deny the benefits of prefabrication and the use of advanced materials.

Transportation requirements limit the distance a housing manufacturer can operate away from its manufacturing site. In the U.S., the distance is about 300 miles, the distance a truck can travel in a day. Beyond that, added costs become a problem. Over-the-road travel also limits the size of components, which must fit width restrictions for roads and height limitations created by bridges and overhead obstructions.

Public acceptance, finally, tends to be conservative when private ownership is a factor. Owners who are also investors must worry -- like the banks -- about property values and resaleability. Conservative thinking tends to prevail.

Comment. For the private sector prefabricator, the mess of localism can be forbidding. In the U.S., the unfortunate result has been regional, not very adventurous manufactured housing. In other countries, problems of localism are less intrusive, with national, unmodified building codes more the norm and fewer other impediments. For those areas most in need of Evolutionary Housing, restrictions will generally be minimal, and government sponsorship can ease the way where local problems do occur. Paradoxically, the greatest restrictions may be on the creation of Evolutionary Housing for the middle class, where government control is least likely to be felt.

As much as prefabrication is a means to lowering building costs and increasing quality, it is not the lowest-cost way to build houses. Traditional local forms of building using indigenous materials and cheap labor will almost always provide shelter at lower cost. With no external support, people will resort to scavenged materials and self-help to build shelter (witness the victims of the tsunami). How can Evolutionary Housing be effective if it is perceived as comparatively too expensive for implementation?

Comment. If the problem is to upgrade housing from shacks made with salvaged materials, traditional building techniques backed with adequate resources will be an improvement. But if the goal is to take a serious step toward quality of life improvement, a better system of building must be attempted. Evolutionary Housing is a model for a seriously improved approach to building. The kinds of stresses to be expected in the near future from droughts, floods, storms and other environmental and social disruptions cannot be met with the kinds of housing now typical in many overcrowded areas of the world. Even though Evolutionary Housing can incorporate locally produced components, it usually will be more expensive than traditional housing forms. To be successfully implemented, it will require supplementary financing, but its strength is that it is scalable, and in its simplest forms, relatively inexpensive -- with an ability to be upgraded as resources permit.

Research and need:
Evolutionary Housing was developed using Structured Planning methodology. For a full description of this process, see papers by Charles L. Owen at The project was conducted by a team of seven, with members from Canada, India, Korea and the U.S., whose backgrounds ranged from information science to world literature, communications, photography and various fields of design.

Project Definition
Research began with a Charter, a "brief" given to the seven-person team. Acting on its instruction, the team began its research by exposing "issues" -- some raised in the Charter and others uncovered by the team -- to in-depth analysis of the possible positions that might be taken. From the analysis and arguments, final positions were formed that bound problems, forged policy and built team consensus for how the project should proceed (for example, on such issues as cost, “adaptivity”, global reach). Defining Statements, along with the Charter, set the direction of the project.

Action Analysis
Activities in the home were examined anew to build a model of what takes place and what could take place in a new-generation dwelling. The information was used to create a "Function Structure" defining major modes of projected system operation, activities to occur within them and the Functions to be performed by the system and/or the home dweller. Research at this stage also uncovered problems that occur in housing as functions are performed. These were explored and discussed in documents called Design Factors. Activity Analyses recorded information about users and Functions; Design Factors documented insights and suggested preliminary ideas for solution.

All ideas, those suggested by Design Factors and those conceived otherwise, were recorded with key details on Solution Element forms. Overall, three sets of critical information were the product of Action Analysis research: a set of Functions the system must perform (organized in a Function Structure), a set of insights about these Functions (Design Factors), and a set of hundreds of preliminary ideas (Solution Elements).

Information Structuring
The wealth of information was organized using a process called information structuring. Associations between solutions and Functions were established with an interaction procedure, and a computer program (RELATN) then established links between Functions. When a link between two Functions was created, it was not because they were categorically related, but because a significant number of potential solutions were of concern to both. This set the stage for the revelation of important and unexpected relationships. Building on the linkage, another computer program, VTCON, was used to find and organize clusters of highly interlinked Functions within the network. The final result was information organized for invention, a hierarchical Information Structure optimized as a "road map" for innovative planning.

Working with the Information Structure as a guide, the team used a structured brainstorming technique called Ends/Means Synthesis to select, modify and invent final solutions suitable to the needs and opportunities revealed by the clustered Functions. Original Solution Elements were used where they still served appropriately. Others were modified to reflect new possibilities revealed by the associations of the clustered Functions. New ideas, worked out to complete requirements or invented to meet opportunities, filled remaining needs.

To check for coverage, features of final ideas, now becoming Elements of the evolving System, were evaluated for their fulfilment of Functions. System Elements were also considered with each other in a search for additional synergies. When new relationships were discovered, properties and features were expanded and refined. Final ideas were crafted into System Element documents that included succinct descriptions, relevant required properties and features, and extensive discussions and scenarios to explain the ideas both descriptively and operationally.

The cumulative result of all research was a presentation and a report. Both can be seen at The 128-page report includes background information introducing the project, an overview of the system, and an extensive description of the system's components and their applications.

Using Structured Planning methodology, the team was able to direct research efficiently, distill information, organize it and employ it effectively in conceptual development. Information from many sources was required for the concepts of Evolutionary Housing. Structured Planning provided the information handling methodology to find, refine, organize and use it.

Designed by
Arpita Agrawal, Michael Davis-Burchat, SoYoung Lee, Kris Marich, Stephen Palumbo, Rachel Serlin-Egan & Soungmin Yoo - USA