Urban apartments off the peg
Apple’s former design head BJ Siegel has developed a concept for a timber modular house. The urban prefab named Juno is designed for mass production – and hopes for success on the scale of the iPhone.
The prefab concept emerged in Europe and North America at roughly the same time, in the second half of the 19th century. Two of the oldest prefabs in the world are Villa Undine on Rügen and Villa Blumenthal in Bad Ischl. These decorative wooden houses built for Wolgaster Actiengesellschaft served as a springboard for industrialized house building. Ever since then, a large market has developed, with numerous suppliers offering private residential buildings off the peg. Apple’s former store designer BJ Siegel is now joining them on a grander scale, with the modular apartment building “Juno”.
In German-speaking regions, at present 20-30% of single- and dual-family houses are prefabs. As a contrast, more than 90% of private homes in the USA are built as timber frame constructions. However, Siegel’s target group is not so much home builders. Rather, he is intending to supply the development industry with a product that is suitable for the masses. According to the product website, “Juno is building an end-to-end platform to connect and streamline the entire real estate development process”.
Following in the footsteps of the iPhone
Above all, the architect wants to provide a design that doesn’t look like a prefab. The modular concept aims to overcome the existing discrepancy between bespoke dream homes and pre-assembled houses. This is because prefabs are still associated with a cheap and identical product.
For us, the idea was to deliver a higher-quality product at a more accessible price point for folks.
BJ Siegel, architect and founder of Juno
Siegel is convinced that a cleverly designed prefabricated house can be productized in the same way as a smartphone. The designer explained to Dezeen magazine: “For us, the idea was to deliver a higher-quality product at a more accessible price point for folks.”
He is convinced that if the quality is right, then nobody is bothered that their house is not unique. “Taking it from product design, no one cares that your iPhone is the same as the next person’s,” continued Siegel. Repetition is something that is frowned upon in architecture. “So we have to design something that is meant to be repeated and that is accepted as higher quality.”
Flat-packed with tools and instructions
Together with co-founder Jonathan Scherr and New York architectural office Ennead Architects, Siegel has developed a modular system with 33 components. These basic elements can be assembled in various ways to produce different housing blocks. Instead of being built at a single location, the production of the individual elements uses a supply chain with a number of production sites across the US.
Juno is ultimately delivered as a flat-pack together with the relevant instructions and necessary tools. Once on-site, the building can then be assembled by the professionals. In the initial phase, they prepare the foundations as required by the construction site. And when the concrete slab is in place, the house can be built as instructed – made entirely of mass timber.
Mystery of the chosen timber
The exact kind of timber material chosen for the house is being kept secret for now. Although the designer has specified that the modular house will not be using CLT, cross-laminated timber. “We are actually using another variety that we think is slightly better than cross-laminated timber for a number of reasons,” Siegel said cryptically.
This variety is not as easily accessible as CLT and comes with the advantage that they are “actually using a lot less material”. But the mystery of the timber material will not be solved any time soon, explained Siegel, because the know-how gives them a competitive advantage.
The benefits of mass plywood panels
Industry insiders suspect that the preferred material will be mass plywood panels (MPP). Manufacturer Freres in Oregon, US, offers these panels as an alternative that will “outperform” the stability of CLT, for example. Unlike the “Baubuche” – literally translated as “construction beech” – produced by German MPP firm Pollmeier, the US product is made from Douglas fir.
Because of this decentralised supply chain, if we chose to be global, we could do that.
BJ Siegel, architect and founder of Juno
According to an initial study by Oregon State University, MPP is technically superior to CLT. It has a similar strength, but material requirements are 20-30 percent lower. And elements can be delivered with spaces for windows and other openings already integrated, thus reducing waste during production. While preserving resources, this preassembly is designed to bring ecological and economic benefits as well.
Start of construction for Juno in Austin
Siegel intends to launch Juno at “market rate”, but he believes that the “cost will continue to go down” due to savings from mass production. Construction of his first project began recently in Austin, Texas, with a five-storey block of 24 residential units. Larger projects are currently being considered for approval in Seattle and Denver.
Although his modular house will be mass produced in the USA at first, Siegel is already thinking on a larger scale. “Because of this decentralized supply chain, if we chose to be global, we could do that. We could build supply chains in other countries. And we could apply this thinking to other places.”
Text: Gertraud Gerst
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Visualisierungen: Engraff Studio, Juno
that might interest you
MoDus Architects have restructured a hotel complex that has decades of growth behind it. The external space created by a new layer of timber on the outside of the Icaro Hotel brings together the existing buildings to form a uniform whole. On the inside, guests encounter plenty of affectionate references to Alpine clichés.
A luxury campsite at the foot of Vorarlberg’s Rätikon mountain range has been enlarged, with the addition of ten timber tiny houses. These hilltop chalets are a reinterpretation of the Alpine hut, and their design has won several awards.
The first five-storey hotel in mass timber design is located in Zillertal, Austria, created by celebrated Italian architect Matteo Thun. It is no coincidence that one of the leading players in structural timber construction is based only a stone’s throw away.
VALO is the name of a complex on the outskirts of Helsinki that combines hotel accommodation with office facilities. With a dual use that is both efficient and viable, the beds are folded away during the day, making way for fold-out desks.
A special kind of discovery world is taking shape in Gothenburg, where Swedish vehicle manufacturer Volvo is using timber construction and nature to create its World of Volvo. The components and engineering for Henning Larsen’s design are being provided by Austrian firm Wiehag.
The Klimatorium in Lemvig, Denmark, devises strategies to counteract global climate change. Situated on the coast of Jutland, the building designed by architects 3XN has already achieved iconic status.
As Dusseldorf’s Theodor Heuss Bridge needs a complete overhaul, the team at RKW Architektur + put their heads together – and produced a spectacular new design. It is literally packed with potential.
The town of Jessheim is getting an impressive new centre. Designed by Norwegian firm Mad arkitekter, it promises to combine sustainable urban development with attractive indoor and outdoor areas.
Metropol Parasol has achieved a phenomenal rejuvenation of a neglected square in Seville. The iconic timber construction by J.MAYER.H architects is a prime example of successful intervention in public space.
The Forestias is one of the largest property development projects in Thailand. The highlight of this project by Foster + Partners is a 48,000 m² urban forest designed by TK Studio.
The Kajstaden Tall Timber Building in Sweden marks the beginning of a new generation of mass timber blocks. Using this building material saves around 500 tonnes of CO₂, and it also facilitates deconstruction later on.
There’s a rocket preparing to launch in Switzerland. The residential timber high-rise named Rocket in Winterthur’s Lokstadt neighbourhood will reach a height of 100 metres. The tower’s residents will be part of the 2000-watt society.
May we introduce Carl? Using timber for its facade besides the supporting structure, the apartment block is currently under construction in Pforzheim. Architect Peter W. Schmidt explains how this is being done.
Kautokeino skole in northern Norway is a project that seeks to embrace the uniqueness of Sami culture and educational style. The mass wood building is so hygge, you’ll want to check in for a few nights.
If you love the far north, you’ll love the Lyngen Alps. And if you love the Lyngen Alps, you’ll love the bungalows by architect Snorre Stinessen.
Canada’s megaproject Waterfront Toronto includes a new district called Quayside, an all-electric and climate-neutral community. Its highlights are a two-acre urban forest and the residential Timber House by architect David Adjaye.
The city of San Diego in Southern California has plans for a new district, one that will be entirely void of cars. Known as Neighborhood Next, it must be one of the most radical projects in the USA.
The new urban quarter Zwhatt near Zurich is designed to enable climate-neutral living at affordable prices. One of its buildings is a 75-metre-high timber hybrid tower known as Redwood, whose facade generates solar power.
Architect and biologist Timothée Boitouzet has used nanotechnology to give wood an upgrade. The new material “Woodoo” is translucent, fire-resistant, weatherproof and up to five times stronger than normal wood.
Timber construction can be decidedly high-tech, as illustrated by the head office built for SR Bank in Stavanger, Norway. Bjergsted Financial Park offers workplaces that are fit for the future, and it is among Europe’s largest engineered timber buildings.
So, what does "Noom" actually mean? While Sanzpont [arquitectura] and Pedrajo + Pedrajo Arquitectos don't exactly reveal this, their "Living the Noom" concept is pretty clear: it’s all about a fresh take on housing. With environmental protection and quality of life as a top priority.
HafenCity Hamburg is an urban quarter fit for the future. Its eco cherry on the top is the “Null-Emissionshaus” (Zero Emissions Building), which is completely carbon-neutral – and can be dismantled like a Lego house.
Snøhetta creates high-calibre architecture, including accommodation at high altitudes amidst Norway’s glaciers. The architects have enriched the Tungestølen mountain cabins with a special feeling of hygge.
Communal vegetable patches, car sharing and a timber building that overtops many others. Sweden’s largest housing cooperative is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a project called Västerbroplan that shows how people will live in the future.
Bearing the name Tree House Rotterdam, Holland’s new landmark-to-be looks like a gigantic stack of wooden shelves with glass lofts added on top. It aims to take the sustainability of timber high-rises to a new level.
Three tonnes of lettuce and vegetables annually will be farmed on top of the We-House, a timber construction project in Hamburg’s HafenCity. The on-site restaurant serves meals for residents of this sophisticated eco-house at cost price.
The design for the urban office building Saint Denis in Paris shows the potential of parametric design in timber construction. Architect Arthur Mamou-Mani is a luminary in this new discipline, and we were able to meet him online.
Researchers at Cambridge University are helping to turn London’s spectacular vision of a wooden skyscraper into reality. The Oakwood Timber Tower is to rise 300 metres into the sky, almost level with the tallest building in the city.