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Prefab Gets an Upgrade

Nomad Arc elevates the prefab construction model, proving that beauty, durability, and mobility can peacefully coexist.

11.01.2017 by Robert Nieminen

Anyone who follows architectural trends has witnessed the evolution of the lowly shipping container into a sort of panacea to the industry’s call to reuse and repurpose building materials. These crude, inexpensive building blocks have been transformed into luxurious homes, hip coffee shops, and corporate spaces, as well as the go-to solution for affordable housing challenges. What’s not to love?

For starters, retrofitting a shipping container for occupancy isn’t as easy or cheap as it may first appear. When factoring the costs of site preparation, assembly, insulation, HVAC, lighting, plumbing, etc., the price of an average container home is $184,000 before shipping and land costs, according to a CNNMoney article. Additionally, from a structural engineering standpoint, shipping containers are designed to withstand deflection, or the degree to which a structural element is displaced under a load, which is ideal for transporting goods but not for the stability required in housing construction. So, while the shipping container model is certainly a viable (and in many ways noble) one, it clearly isn’t without limitations or complications.

When a client requested Los Angeles-based Delta H Design, Inc. (DHDI) to design a ZR Acoustics recording studio as a shipping container, the firm set out to study the popular prefab concept and improve upon it. Being in close proximity to one of the world’s largest ports in Long Beach, Calif., proved serendipitous, as it afforded DHDI the ability to conduct extensive research on shipping containers firsthand, according to Principal and CEO Hanson Hsu.

“We did a great deal of research on the structure, construction, waterproofing, and thermal natures and properties of shipping containers,” Hsu explained. “What we discovered, besides the fact that it was a revolutionary design that changed the world of commerce as we know it, is that it isn’t necessarily the best for architecture because the cost to retrofit it and the amount of materials and labor it takes to actually turn a shipping container into a viable, permitable life-safe structure is actually not worth it. You might as well just build a new structure.”

He noted he has never been a fan of prefabricated construction because so much of it comes off as unattractive, rickety, and cheap. So in working on the ZR Acoustics studio project, Hsu did what any innovator would do: he took an existing idea and improved upon it to create Nomad Arc, a groundbreaking, elegant line of environmentally conscious structures designed to cultivate freedom and flexibility.

“We basically used the concepts of the modularity [of shipping containers], meaning our modules are roughly shipping-container size,” Hsu explained. “They’re 8 feet by 20 feet or 8 feet by 40 feet in order to use a lot of the same shipping mechanisms that shipping containers do.”

That’s essentially where the comparisons stop. Both from a structural and aesthetic point of view, Nomad Arc is heads and tails above any prefab construction model to date, featuring clean, elegant lines with inspiring facades that nod toward mid-century architecture. Designed for longevity, these transportable, modular buildings are prefabricated for residential and commercial use. Sustainable, affordable, and adaptable, these high-quality, attractive spaces are becoming the new “platinum standard” of prefabricated structures that are built to last.

While each module of Nomad Arc is designed to stand alone structurally, when assembled as a complete edifice with all modules, the overall structural integrity surpasses the strength of any one module. Hsu said the modular structures are designed to withstand everything from hurricanes to tornadoes and earthquakes, thanks to their steel construction. From a design standpoint, they also embrace today’s trends toward openness, flexibility, and nomadic living (hence the name).


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