Module's mission is to bring good design to more people. Our Design Partners Program helps us do just that by allowing us to expand outside of our hometown, Pittsburgh, PA. We connect with architects from all over to educated them on our modular construction process so that they can bring well-designed, sustainable homes to their clients across the country.
Module CEO, Brian Gaudio, sat down with Sloan Springer, an architect based in Collingswood, New Jersey, to chat about the importance of innovation in the construction industry, what an effective design process looks like, and why he's interested in working with Module.
Tell us about yourself, Sloan.
I’m an architect based in Collingswood, New Jersey. I do some work in Pennsylvania and some in New York. I also do some work in Austin Texas as well, where I’m originally from.
I primarily focus on single family residential architecture, and a little bit of multifamily here and there. My passion is helping people get through this crazy process of renovating, adding an addition, or building a new home. It can be a bumpy road, but I feel very passionate about making it fun so they can focus on the things that really matter to them.
It’s my favorite when I bring an idea to the table and someone tells me, “I never would have thought of that on my own”. To me, that distills everything I do down to one idea and shows the value that architects can bring.
You talked about helping to smooth out the bumps in the road and the idea of the “aha” moment. Can you give us an example in a recent project where one of those two things happened?
Yes, I have a very recent example. I had a client who came to me and they were building a new house. They’d already found a house plan online that they liked. They said “we love this plan and these are the changes that we want to make”. I agreed, but I asked them to let me take them through my process as well and see where we land. At the end of the process, we threw away the plan that they came with because that original plan didn’t fit their needs or the site that they’re building on. In the end, they were super happy with what we came up with together versus the preconceived idea.
You shouldn’t go to a doctor and tell them your diagnosis - instead, you tell them your symptoms and then they run tests, go through their process, and then give you a diagnosis.
My job is similar - I take their inspirations (pinterest boards, a stack of photos, etc) that they bring me and then I take who I understand them to be as people and then work with them to come up with something that none of us had thought of at the beginning. It shows me that our process works.
I like that doctor analogy. These days you have HGTV which is like researching your symptoms on WebMD. Using that analogy, what symptoms are something that an architect can’t solve?
The biggest roadblocks are usually constraints to a site that are too difficult to overcome. This is usually when we try to do additions. Sometimes we get started, but when we go through the research phases and planning, and zoning we find out that it’s not possible. There are times when the only real solution just isn’t reasonable.
On the flip side, I’ve had experiences where the goal was to do an addition and after the research phase, we were able to find that they didn't actually need an addition, but rather an extensive renovation. This gave them what they wanted, without having to go through the zoning process. Plus, the project ended up costing less money than adding an addition.
You mentioned that you work in multiple markets, including Austin TX. What is it like working in remote projects? How is it working in a state that you don’t live in, versus ones that you live in?
It’s actually not that different. It can be frustrating to not be able to swing by a job site, like I could on a local project, but the design process is pretty much the same. I think most people have learned over the past couple years that it’s possible to do just about anything remotely.
There’s an app called Hover that allows my clients to go out and take pictures of a house on an existing site and upload the pictures to Hover. The app then produces a sketch up model for me. There are so many tools now that speed the project up and allow team members to not have to be there.
There’s no replacement for being there in person, but not being able to meet in person isn’t a detrimental aspect to the project.
Another thing you brought up when we last met was the idea that square footage means nothing. People are usually really concerned about that metric and expect it to determine the cost, but why do you think that’s not the best metric to use?
That seems to be the lowest common denominator that everyone seems to understand. If you think about it though, every single project is different. From the site, to the existing conditions, to the market at that moment in time, to how the market changes, etc. This idea of distilling something down to a per square foot cost is not relevant. There really isn’t any correlation.
People have general ideas of sizes of the rooms that they want and give me the square foot to make an estimate. But based on that, that estimate won’t be accurate because it doesn’t factor wall thickness or circulation space - there’s a lot there that you don’t think about that can result in 15-20% more square footage.
Plus, different contractors affect the final price because they use different materials and have relationships with different vendors. If it were that easy to distill everything down to one number, there wouldn’t be a need for as many contractors or architects.
We get that question all the time and we always say it depends on site factors, location, permit fees, etc. One last question - what peeked your interest in Module and modular construction?
For me, I’ve always been interested in doing housing better. Look at the market today - it’s not working. Construction costs are astronomical, property values are astronomical, and land is finite. We’re not building enough housing to meet the population demands. So if there’s anything that can help make housing more affordable or more cost effective, I’m interested.
Module is a great example of being able to leverage manufacturing in a way that doesn’t sacrifice design that isn’t a mobile home. When someone moves into a Module home, they’d have no idea that the house was built using modular construction. My interest really came from looking for new ways to do housing. Anything that can help build houses faster for the average person, because the situation currently isn’t getting any better.