can customization be affordable?

Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota and an important critical mind within the field of architecture, was recently a guest on Enoch Sear’s the Business of Architecture. Per the norm with Fisher, his insights into architectural practice are framed within a broader economic picture that brings an interesting perspective. During the discussion, Fisher cites economist Jeremy Rifkin’s writing about a movement from “a mass production, mass consumption economy of the 20th century in to what he calls a mass customization economy of the 21st century.” As a concept, “mass customization” seems antithetical, but real world examples are everywhere. Smart phones are probably the most prevalent example. Each phone is mass produced and has certain similarities, but the exterior, screen display, apps, and functionality are controlled by the end user (and at this point, we wouldn’t have it any other way).

Closer to home, the Baptist Town Cottage Project has provided some opportunities to practice mass customization through a modular, affordable housing effort. Though each size floor plan is identical to the next, various interior finishes and exterior colors allow home owners a level of individualization. Additionally, each home owner was paired with a team of architects and designers during the Enterprise Rose Fellow Alumni retreat last spring. The teams spent an afternoon together, each creating a custom carpentry detail that will be built and installed as the slats between foundation piers and the railings around stairs and porches. Today, we are excited with the project progress as eight foundations are currently under construction and the Greenwood-Leflore Fuller Center for Housing was recently awarded a $10,303 grant from the GE Volunteers Foundation to construct our “mass customized” designs.

For more about this concept, listen to Sears and Fisher’s entire discussion.

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