NEXT MEETING

The first face-to-face meeting of the CHBA Factory-Built Modular Construction Council will take place on May 8, 2017 in St. John's, NL. Registration details will be posted soon.

 

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Greg Latimer

Posted: 
November 12, 2013

 

by Bernie Desjardins

Greg Latimer has lived in such diverse Canadian cities as Vancouver, Sault Ste. Marie and Montreal, and places as remote as the Yukon, where he worked on construction crews as a teenager. His extensive knowledge of the incredible variety of potential building sites in this country has served him well as an architect. A partner in LGA Architectural Partners, Greg works with a large and diverse client base to “celebrate the many ways to live and work”—one of the key principles of LGA’s vision.

The architects at LGA have been interested in prefabricated building methods for many years, Greg says. It was the efficient use of shipping containers as homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that initially sparked their interest. With conventional cladding and the interior finished as any home might be finished, the designers achieved a new prototype that would adapt to the conditions in New Orleans. “Sometimes the more conventional a home looks, the better people will like it, although LGA prefers to express the nature of the system used,” he says. But in a way, while emergency manufactured housing units are indispensable for disaster relief, they may contribute to prevailing misperceptions about manufactured building.

In Greg’s experience, anyone who sets foot in a factory-built home today is more impressed with its style, and the precision of even the minutest details of construction, than they are concerned about its origin in a factory (which is not obvious in any event). Modules can be combined to create large, magnificent homes, and modular construction is increasingly being used for multi-family projects and large, multistorey buildings.

In 2006, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) retained LGA Architectural Partners to design detached, semidetached, row house, and apartment building units that could be produced in a factory setting for use in social housing developments. Improved economies of scale and other cost efficiencies make factory-based construction an ideal fit for multi-family and social housing initiatives, Greg says, noting the Hartford Greens project in Saskatoon, which was developed by Innovative Residential and Grandeur Housing.

A renovation/addition project undertaken by LGA at 25 Leonard Avenue in Toronto highlighted the versatility of modular construction for Greg. The project included the addition of two storeys of prefabricated units to the roof of an existing four storey residential building. “It was really interesting trying to figure out how to build on top of a building while it was occupied,” Greg says. “The use of manufactured modules significantly reduced disruption to the building’s residents during the construction phase. It would have taken six months to build on site; the use of factory-based construction cut the time in half.”

The prefabricated roof-top addition was recognized as a Winning Best Practice in Affordable Housing in CMHC’s Housing Awards. The people at LGA are always on the lookout now for buildings that would be suitable for modular additions. Many buildings cannot handle the upward expansion structurally, however, so LGA advocates for building this capacity into the structure of new buildings in the planning stage. “The expense is not huge” Greg says, “and the potential warrants it.”

As the use of factory-based construction continues to increase in Canada, Greg sees an important role for architects to play in communicating the benefits of state-of-the-art manufactured building techniques to the public. “Education about manufactured housing advantages starts with designers and building officials,” he says, noting that outdated regulations and lack of familiarity can increase building costs significantly. Sometimes regulations are slow to change and are too restrictive for materials and methods, he says, an example being the prohibition of wood-frame structures above four storeys in Ontario. “It is certainly possible to have safe wood-frame buildings of significant height through a variety of safety features,” says Greg. In municipalities that understand the quality assurance and inspection system that governs the factory certification of buildings, regulations and requirements are catching up. “Consumers should be pleased to know that in the Greater Toronto Area at least, an important milestone has been passed—manufactured housing is now competitive in terms of cost and easier to move through the approvals process than site-built housing.”

The manufactured housing that Greg Latimer and his colleagues at LGA have designed reflects their creativity, adaptability and environmental awareness. The designs have been influenced by factory construction requirements—the modules need to be sized properly and have a high level of structural integrity to be transported and lifted with a crane. But precision building, structural integrity, environmental sensitivity and cost efficiency aside—if it’s the look that you want, these homes look fantastic.