As an engineer who has spent thirty years studying building, and who has passed through the various stages of thought as applied to the workman's home, I have come to a conclusion which will strike the old builder as heresy and the investor as visionary. But I am confident that it is entirely practical, startlingly economical, and sound business, to establish a manufacturing process whereby large, complete members of a house can be fabricated in the shop, and very largely with machines. These large parts could be transported by automobile truck and erected with derricks, secured together by means of substantial anchors and bolts, so as to furnish a house of greater strength and durability than the present type of frame house. When these fabricated parts are assembled, the exterior can be treated to a normal coating of veneer which will make of it a permanent house - brick, stone, stucco; or shingles, clapboards, or sheathing.
Ample plants are available for the purpose, requiring only a small amount of alteration, and little if any machinery to be specially designed. I believe we are ready to fabricate a house without having to wait for the tedious process of inventing machinery or developing new materials to be used in this revolutionary process. I want to describe in some detail the process which I recommend.
1 Adapted from "Factory-made Homes," Survey, February 15, 1929.
The first thing about a home is a hole in the ground. I believe we are building four times too much cellar for our houses. I should recommend a cellar under 25 per cent of the house and no cellar under the remainder. But regardless of the size of the cellar, the foundation walls should be built of materials fabricated at a shop. They should be hollow, large-size shells, presumably made of concrete materials. They should be transported by truck and erected with derricks without re-handling. These shells should be filled with gross materials from the cellar excavation, so as to give the foundation wall weight and frost-proofing in our northern climates.
Revolution number two in my plan is to build the chimney in a single piece, transport it by truck, and erect it with a derrick just as we do with a large concrete telephone pole.
Next comes the house above the foundations. In the simple house, the rooms all have six rectangular surfaces: Four sidewalls, ceiling, and floor. The first element needed for a room is a floor, with the cellar ceiling, and I am confident that our engineers are competent to build this in a shop, full room-size for the smaller house, all finished, using the materials we know, want, and have used for years. This unit can be transported without interference with traffic, and pass under most of our bridges without difficulty.
Assume, then, that we have three or four rooms on the first floor, and that we shall make an equal number of units in the factory, entirely completed, transport them, lay them on their foundation, and secure them to their foundation by proper fastening on all edges.
Next come the side walls of the rooms, divided into two classes. Assume that we will be generous with sizes, building a workman's home with one room twenty-four feet long. This, I think from my experience, is excessive, but assume that we have a piece of finished material comprising an interior partition, twenty-four feet long, substantially eight feet high, and six inches thick. This finished member of the building will weigh about one thousand pounds. It will probably have one door, perhaps two, through the partition. I have no doubt that our engineers would be entirely competent to design the framing for such a partition, and a finished surface over the frame, making it sufficiently rigid to meet all requirements of transportation, handling by derrick, and fastening together at top, bottom, and both ends, with other members likewise fabricated. This partition member should be made entirely finished, including the door with its trim and hardware, electric-light wiring, heating and ventilating ducts, and surface paint, using materials that are available in large quantities at moderate prices in the current market. Assume that such a partition, very much smaller than the wing of an airplane, is completed, and we ship it in the same way as we ship a large table for a club, or an airplane wing, and handle it with a derrick of the right size and kind, erect it in its proper position on the floor already laid, and bolt it to other units sufficiently to provide for all stresses. We then have a finished interior partition standing on a floor.
Let us assume an outer wall built in a factory and handled in much the same way, except that the exterior surface is treated with a waterproof material, ready to receive its veneer of brick, stucco, stone, or wood. This partition, with its windows already installed, will be finished with shutters on the outside, hung on proper hardware and closed for protection of the glass, shade and screen on the inside, and protected with a panel, used for the protection of windows, marked "return to the factory." All windows, as well as doors, will have weather strips.
To continue with our house. Somewhere, either in the cellar or on the first floor, we must establish a heating unit. This, in my opinion, in the future will be developed in a systematized, standardized, grouped unit, suitable for the number of rooms to be heated, any one of which may be heated to any temperature within the range required for comfortable living conditions by simply pressing a button. I think, for the working-man's home, we will burn oil in a proper heating apparatus, and heat with warmed air recirculating and under control for each room.
And now let us dare to be really radical. Let us build a bathroom, including its finished interior walls, its fixtures set in place, tested and so designed that we can hang it up like a bird-cage on a hook. That is to say, we would take a structure substantially like an elevator cage and put bathroom fixtures in it, all piped and ready for three connections, a soil pipe (three inches in diameter only, rather than the four inches we are now using), a hot-water pipe, and a cold-water pipe. Let us set this bathroom on a prepared foundation which is part of the four partitions coming together under or directly on a floor as the case may be. The bathroom will have one outside wall ready to be finished like the other outside walls - three inside walls or partitions, and usually one door.
Stairs are now very largely made in the shop. Closets, like so many coffins, in the future will surely be made entirely finished. The second story will be finished as the first.
Then comes the roof. I have no doubt that the house of the future will have an insulated exterior wall and an insulated roof. I believe the roof can be made in large-size members, properly designed and waterproofed at a factory, these being transported by truck and erected by derrick.
Now our house is completed. But I want to make it clear that I eliminate from my program any standardization which spoils the art of the structure. I want to emphasize the fact that I do not believe in the success of stereotyped houses for workmen. We have never standardized the family. We must have a variable home as to size, number of rooms, and a variety of other elements. I am entirely in sympathy with the architect's desire to stamp his work with his personal touch, and I am firmly committed to the handling of the program in such a way that he will be given opportunity to stamp these homes with his masterful stroke of design and add those details which will give charm to these simple, home-like cottages. No two bridges are alike, but all bridges are fabricated. No two elevators need be alike, but all elevators are fabricated. Increasingly, fabrication is taking place in the building business. Eventually the small individual house, and a great number of grouped cottages in the form of a city village (like those which have been built in Bridgeport), will be processed through the manufacturing plant, with striking similarity to the development of the Ford car.
The engineer, who has proceeded by leaps and bounds in this industrial age, bringing about again and again a better product at a cheaper price, must play his part in this program, just as he has in the manufacture of the automobile.
As a result of such fabrication, I am confident the price of these houses will be reduced more than 35 per cent. When this is accomplished, it will then be possible for low-paid wage earners to live in proper homes. Slum conditions in the small city will then be eliminated. A proper home in the suburbs of our metropolitan areas will be available and a mortal blow will be struck at the slum tenements in the congested areas of large cities.