Town Reinvents Homebuilding With Flat-Pack Houses Under $150k

Holland has always had a progressive take on affordable housing, especially where apartments and co-housing are concerned. But a new government program is making it possible for people who make as little as $40,000 a year to build their own homes—all through the magic of flat-packing.

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The program is called I build affordable in Nijmegen (or IbbN), and it’s more like buying a car than buying a house. The city offers potential owners a loan for the land and the house, which buyers pick from a roster of 30 specially-designed prefab packages which start at less than $150,000. The cost and schedule of building the house—and here’s what makes this program so crazy—is fixed, eliminating the primary reason many people hesitate to build their own home.

This being the Netherlands, design quality matters. Nijmegen invited 20 Dutch firms to develop the 30 home packages, which range from gabled townhome to wood shack. Each of the options comes with a menu of customizations, too—you can change your facade from wood shingles to metal panels, say, or extend the house with an extra room or patio. And because most of the components are assembled off-site, they take roughly a month and a half to assemble.

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In a Guardian article about IbbN, one of the architects involved with the project explains the allure:

Since the economic crisis, both architects and the city are trying to find new ways to build houses. There are few developers willing to build, so the city is selling plots directly to the residents and letting them do it for themselves. People always think working with an architect will be more expensive and take longer, but this way they feel more secure. We've always wanted to make a really cheap, sustainable house and this gives us a great way into the market.

There are plenty of flat-pack and self-build companies flourishing in other places. But what makes IbbN innovative isn’t necessarily the architecture—it’s the knowledge that your project won’t go over budget (or schedule). [Guardian]

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A home by 8A Architecten (who designed the package in the lead image, too) costs $150,000 total.

Illustration for article titled Town Reinvents Homebuilding With Flat-Pack Houses Under $150k
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A concept from Bendien/Wierenga Architects. Left image via Wired UK.

Illustration for article titled Town Reinvents Homebuilding With Flat-Pack Houses Under $150k
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EX.s Architecture designed this flatpack cabin.

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Lilith Ronner van Hooijdonk's contribution to the program uses hay bales for insulation.

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DISCUSSION

We're a design firm here in the US and the problem we see with prefab isn't social acceptance or style so much as cost - like gas, construction is often undervalued here. This means that prefabbing a house (with the usual infrastructure costs + costs of shipping materials from their origin to the house factory + shipping the whole thing to the site) in most of the US ends up being as or more expensive than traditional construction. But I think the pendulum is swinging in the right direction. Labor costs are still rising and the further it goes the more pressure will be put on the rest of the construction chain to reduce costs through manufacturing.