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Five Questions for Prefab Architect Jeffrey Sommers

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We got pretty excited last month when a crane arrived to the 1400 block of Ohio Street in West Town and began lowered pieces of a C3 modular home into place. This week, we caught up with Square Root Architecture + Design principal Jeffrey Sommers, who designed the home, to talk about prefab construction in Chicago.

In a previous Curbed post, we mistakenly wrote that it takes "just one day to build a modular home." How long does it actually take to construct a C3 home?

The C3 is split up into five separate building modules which took 2-1/2 weeks to construct in the manufacturing facility. Once the modules are delivered and craned into place onsite, it will take approximately an additional 4 weeks of work to complete the finish work.

Why do you think it has taken Chicago so long to come around to prefab homes?

There is a widespread myth that prefab is not allowed in Chicago. It is definitely allowed, but the construction still has to conform to Chicago building and zoning codes which tend to be much stricter than where most prefab manufacturing facilities build their buildings - suburban and rural areas. These facilities already have a formula for constructing their buildings, and changing that formula to adopt a stricter Chicago building code simply does not make economic sense for them.

Chicago building inspectors like to have a look at new homes while they're being constructed. When most of the construction is done off-site (and out-of-state), how do you deal with them?

We constructed as much as we possibly could in the factory in order to shorten the amount of time we would have to spend in onsite finishing the home. However, we did leave certain key portions of the home without drywall so that we could have the city inspectors in to the building once the modules were set in Chicago, so they could perform their inspections, similar to how they would do it on any other building project.

You've gotten a bit of press for the C3 home. How many requests for modular homes have you gotten in the past few months?

Up until the house was actually craned into place here in Chicago we did not have many serious inquiries. We fielded a lot of people that were curious about the project, but I think most people were tentative about whether a prefab could be built in Chicago. Now that the building is here in place, those same people are returning to us along with many others. So it is really exciting and we have already begun working on a handful of new prefab prototypes for future projects.

Do you live in a prefab home?

We currently do not live in a prefab home, but definitely will as soon as I can.
· A Prefab Home Descends on Ohio Street in West Town [Curbed Chicago]