Art of Space Small worlds: Zane Fischer’s Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -


Last Septem­ber, Zane Fischer, CEO of Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures, told an Albuquerque au­di­ence that the sup­ply of truly af­ford­able hous­ing is dwin­dling and lamented that build­ing costs of­ten dwarf in­come lev­els. He was a speaker at TEDxABQ, a lo­cal event af­fil­i­ated with the New York-based TED (tech­nol­ogy, en­ter­tain­ment, de­sign) con­fer­ence pro­gram. The hous­ing prob­lem is ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that peo­ple tend to be “cul­tur­ally at­tached to de­tached hous­ing,” he said. “We think that a sin­gle-fam­ily house with the big yard is a sig­ni­fier of suc­cess, and a whole bunch of ’em on a shady street is the per­fect neigh­bor­hood.”

Then we face an­other chal­lenge: So many peo­ple are averse to high-den­sity liv­ing, and typ­i­cally the only pro­vi­sion for that in cities is the apart­ment house. “What we can do,” Fischer sug­gested, “is fol­low the lead of the maker move­ment and take th­ese man­u­fac­tur­ing tools and ap­ply them to fab­ri­cate hu­man-scale hous­ing lo­cally.”

That’s what his nine-month-old com­pany is all about. The maker move­ment is de­signed to give demo­cratic ac­cess to so­phis­ti­cated tools for­merly re­stricted to large-com­pany fac­to­ries. As Fischer was gear­ing up to launch Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures, he helped in­au­gu­rate a maker space in the Meow Wolf build­ing on Ru­fina Cir­cle. As the arts col­lec­tive’s pro­gram grew there, Fischer moved the MAKE Santa Fe space to his busi­ness lo­ca­tion on All Trades Road. It’s out­fit­ted with a laser cut­ter and a slew of 3-D print­ers. In his ad­ja­cent shop, he has a planer, a joiner, and a drill press. But the star of the show is the ShopBot router, on which are cre­ated the parts of Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures build­ings.

This awe­some tool is a large, soft­ware­con­trolled router. It’s ba­si­cally a ro­bot. “We take a de­sign into a CAM [com­put­eraided man­u­fac­tur­ing] pro­gram on the com­puter and turn it into a tool­path, and we des­ig­nate bits and depths and it goes through its pro­gram, mov­ing up and down and side to side, di­ag­o­nally and cir­cu­lar, mak­ing all the cuts we need on a panel.” In that way, Fischer pro­duces the com­po­nents of a pan­el­ized con­struc­tion sys­tem of his own in­ven­tion. Each wall panel is made up of two sheets of ply­wood sep­a­rated along the sides with per­fo­rated ply­wood studs, all keyed to­gether with a se­ries of al­ter­nat­ing cuts, like lap or halv­ing joints, and screwed to­gether. The re­sult­ing void is filled with in­su­la­tion. The fin­ished pan­el­boxes are notched at the bot­tom and can be tilted up on a foun­da­tion-mounted sill plate much like a SIP (struc­tural-in­su­lated panel) mo­d­ule. “But with SIPs, there’s a lot of em­bod­ied en­ergy and in­ten­sive chem­i­cal pro­duc­tion in­volved in glu­ing, and you need a crew and a crane to as­sem­ble them,” Fischer said. “What we’re do­ing is a pan­el­ized con­struc­tion sys­tem that one or two peo­ple can build with and it gives you a choice of both sheet and in­su­lat­ing ma­te­rial like min­eral wool.”

Fischer has availed him­self of the ser­vices of en­gi­neers with the New Mex­ico Small Busi­ness As­sis­tance pro­gram (a col­lab­o­ra­tion of Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory, San­dia Na­tional Lab­o­ra­to­ries, and the state of New Mex­ico), who pres­sure-tested the pan­els and eval­u­ated their ther­mal ef­fi­ciency.

Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures built a back­yard stu­dio that won ap­proval from the state’s Con­struc­tion In­dus­tries Di­vi­sion. “They hadn’t seen any­thing quite like it be­fore, but they were will­ing to ac­cept it as

an alternative to tra­di­tional fram­ing,” he said. And visi­tors to his op­er­a­tion off Siler Road can see a 200-square-foot pro­to­type dwelling, the SaltBox Tiny House, all decked out with a full-ser­vice kitchen and bath­room (in­clud­ing a won­der­ful wooden soak­ing tub made by the com­pany’s Katherine Lee), a Mur­phy bed, air con­di­tioner, wood stove, and plenty of shelves and stor­age spa­ces. The out­side is clad in hor­i­zon­tal-seam 22-gauge steel, “a con­tem­po­rary, low-main­te­nance ma­te­rial that I think ends up fit­ting in to the pal­ette around here, with­out be­ing stucco.”

In­side, the walls were left un­fin­ished and look hand­some with the knotty-pine-face ply­wood used on the pan­els. The roof is stand­ing-seam metal on trusses built by the com­pany, and the floor is end­grain mesquite from Old Wood Inc. The bath­room walls are pan­eled in bright, wa­ter­proof white acrylic.

“This could be an accessory dwelling, a back­yard stu­dio or of­fice, or a work­shop,” Fischer said. “An accessory dwelling unit is hooked to the pri­mary dwelling, and th­ese can add to the hous­ing sup­ply with­out do­ing large mul­ti­fam­ily de­vel­op­ments. It gives the home­own­ers ad­di­tional eq­uity, and in the long term in­creases prop­erty-tax rev­enue, so I see that as a win-win. The city is work­ing on a new hous­ing plan, and we’re hop­ing to see some loos­en­ing of how it might in­cen­tivize peo­ple to do accessory dwellings. One of the things that might stop you from do­ing a guest house in the back­yard is that you have con­struc­tion work­ers com­ing in at seven in the morn­ing for eight months. We can do it much faster and with much less equip­ment and ma­chines.”

He and Lee spread half a dozen con­cep­tual build­ing plans, pro­duced in SketchUp, on a large ta­ble in their com­puter room. “We think we can build many of th­ese out to a pretty nice turnkey level for $165 a square foot,” he said. “Our mis­sion is to cre­ate a prod­uct, a pan­el­ized con­struc­tion sys­tem, that can ex­ist in a va­ri­ety of kits or can be eas­ily adapted, even to some­thing cus­tom. With the tools and soft­ware we’re us­ing, we can en­ter a build­ing’s foot­prints and de­sign pa­ram­e­ters and have it au­topop­u­late with mod­u­lar com­po­nents so we can kind of cre­ate a cus­tom kit for some­one.

“We can of­fer a va­ri­ety of ser­vices, from send­ing a file to a shop that has a router near you to flat-pack­ing all of the pan­els [on a truck], to quasi-flat­pack­ing, where we as­sem­ble the pan­els and pre-in­su­late them so when you get them, they’re ready to be tilted up. You put one panel up, put an­other next to it, and they’re locked to­gether with lit­tle wood keys at the ends and you just keep go­ing and you very rapidly com­plete your struc­ture. All the open­ings are al­ready cut out for elec­tri­cal, ven­ti­la­tion, win­dows, and doors.”

Re­gard­ing style, Fischer said the sys­tem ba­si­cally yields a se­ries of boxes, “so in a way it’s Legos for big kids. I see peo­ple who are ready to put sweat eq­uity into their house, for the af­ford­abil­ity, so we’re try­ing to make that kit. But we’re also hold­ing off a lit­tle bit, be­cause we want the first per­son to truly as­sem­ble a kit to be close enough for us to help them if they run into trou­ble. And then as far as ex­tend­ing our prod­uct out into the broader con­struc­tion in­dus­try, we need to fin­ish up some cer­ti­fi­ca­tions so that the state will ac­cept it.”

Fischer said he and his em­ploy­ees have spent con­sid­er­able time turn­ing away po­ten­tial cus­tomers and

ex­plain­ing “why they prob­a­bly don’t want a tiny house on wheels, be­cause it’s a travel trailer and most places don’t let you live there full-time; it’s go­ing to de­pre­ci­ate as op­posed to gain­ing value like a foun­da­tion-built house on a piece of land.” Rather, those peo­ple should take ad­van­tage of all the good en­gi­neer­ing boasted by to­day’s light­weight travel trail­ers.

Lee added that an Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures tiny house can be moved rel­a­tively eas­ily, if needed. “And it can be eas­ier some­times to put a build­ing on a site rather than build­ing it there.”

The com­pany of­fers de­sign ser­vices at $100 per hour and dig­i­tal fab­ri­ca­tion ser­vices for $150 per hour ma­chine time. A 200-square-foot mod­u­lar SaltBox Tiny House, on a foun­da­tion or on wheels will cost about $15,000 if the owner builds it, or about $50,000 if Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures builds it. For en­trepreneurs, artists, in­ven­tors, and oth­ers who want to work on their own de­sign ideas in the MAKE Santa Fe space, a $65 monthly mem­ber­ship gives you ac­cess to a laser cut­ter and 3-D printer. A fun ex­am­ple of what’s pos­si­ble is the 3-D printed toy Lee made based on the com­pany’s cool logo that was cre­ated by Lacey Adams De­sign.

So does Fischer in­tend to pa­tent his pan­el­ized con­struc­tion sys­tem? “I’m not very in­ter­ested in that,” he said. “I find my­self re­spond­ing to the open-source idea: de­sign glob­ally and man­u­fac­ture lo­cally. I ben­e­fit from de­signs other peo­ple are shar­ing, and if oth­ers can ben­e­fit from de­signs that we put out, it’s a ben­e­fit for every­one.”

See www.ex­traor­di­narys­truc­; the com­pany’s also on Face­book. Fischer hosts a TEDxABQ Ad­ven­ture at 10 a.m. on Satur­day, Feb. 25; check out — and he co-hosts a Global Ser­vice Jam with MAKE Santa Fe and MIX from Fri­day, Feb. 17, to Sun­day, Feb. 19; see www.make­­vice-jam.

Zane Fischer, CEO of Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures, and the com­pany’s Katherine Lee, putting up the bed

The Mur­phy bed, ready for rest

In­side the SaltBox Tiny House, a 200-square-foot pro­to­type dwelling from Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures: kitchen, bath­room, and lots of stor­age

Photo il­lus­tra­tion of the SaltBox Tiny House

A cross-fin­ger joint on an Ex­tra­or­di­nary Struc­tures ta­ble (the com­pany also pro­duces fur­ni­ture); above, Fischer points to the ply­wood stud on one of the wall pan­els

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.