Technology makes custom design more accessible than ever
For years, the word bespoke was a marker in the world of fashion. The high-end tailors of Saville Row offered bespoke suits to their clientele. A custom work of art made just for that person to wear. It was unique. It was special. It was expensive. Which was why most folks bought stuff off the rack.
These days, the word bespoke has broken free from the fashion world and applies to any element of design that is made to order. That includes architecture and design. While the use of the word has changed, the implication hasn’t for many in the world of construction. Bespoke is seen as out of reach. But in reality, that’s just not true anymore. Thanks to prefabrication, custom solutions in construction are actually accessible.
“When it comes to bespoke design, it was always a series of craftsmen who were working on these designs,” says Colin Blehm, director of product development at DIRTT. “But what we now see is a change in that trend. We’re starting to see that prefab construction is allowing us to be more creative in those elements.”
Technology and design
This is where we get into another preconception ‒ that prefabricated construction is a cookie-cutter option. There’s been a stigma that these solutions weren’t flexible or couldn’t meet the aesthetic needs of the Client. Truth is, offsite manufacturing has long-been more than standard-issue walls or a fleet of identical work stations. Technology is the driver that’s put prefabrication on the cutting edge of custom solutions. Today, Designers have tools that offer integration that would have been impossible a decade ago. It has changed the way they customize their ideas, allowing elegance to be paired with functionality for the end user.
“We’re now working with technology to achieve these goals,” says Colin. “So instead of that master skill set with hands, it’s now being done with 3D software and virtual design.”
Technology and process
But digital technology isn’t only a helpful design tool. Its something that can benefit the process all the way through manufacturing, too. Incorporating the same technology in a factory setting allows virtual designs to become the real thing. Equipment on the factory floor streamlines the process. Computer Numerical Controlled (CNC) machining equipment can create custom elements down to 1/64th of an inch. This results in consistency previously unheard of. At the same time, it gives unparalleled fit and finish. It’s manufactured off-site, with limited waste and maximum labor efficiency.
The labor situation
Anyone working in construction knows this is a huge deal. Finding skilled people to work on construction projects is harder than ever.
“What we are seeing across all North America is that for every three tradespeople that are leaving, maybe only one is back filling that position,” says Colin. “The labor shortage we are seeing is not just in the trades that we use in construction, but also the artisans. The elements that were being brought in to make these custom bespoke elements.”
“For that reason, some of these bespoke projects are being cancelled because there is just not a skillset that can fill that need.”
This all points to a practical reason to use prefabrication in the world of bespoke. It doesn’t need the same amount of labor. Using CNC at a factory level achieves more with less. When those elements are delivered to site, a smaller team of people installs them. And it takes them less time to do it. This alleviates a shortage of labor, putting bespoke projects back on the table.
Technology and materials
It’s not just what Designers are making. It also has to do with what they are making it with. The world of prefab isn’t tied to building things with standard construction materials. In fact, prefabrication is known for using unique materials. This frees Designers from limitations usually put on them by the industry.
Take aluminum extrusion profiles, for example. They’re the building blocks of DIRTT’s prefab walls. They are created in such a way that allows for extensive surface details. Intricate outcroppings and crevices can be customized so that wall faces can simply be clipped on. Modular components go together with ease on site and an entire space can be fully customized. They offer maximum functionality and accuracy. Meanwhile a standard steel stud is nothing more than a glorified metal U that requires screws or even welding to get the job done.
The other advantage to combining prefabrication and bespoke is the ability to future-proof the space. Bespoke fit and finish used to mean one of a kind. That also meant making modifications needed a tear-down and rebuild. Now, the same technology that made creation easy the first time can be used to make a modified version of it almost as easily. From adding data and power outlets, to reconfiguring an office, prefab gives bespoke flexibility.
With bespoke as accessible as ever, Clients can get exactly what they want. But there’s another upside for Designers bringing their ideas to life. “We get to create the future. Everything from the aesthetics right down to the mechanical elements,” says Colin. “It’s exhilarating.”
DIRTT Environmental Solutions uses its 3D software to create prefabricated interiors. Each space is tailored to our clients' needs. Manufacturing facilities are located in Phoenix, Savannah and Calgary. DIRTT works with nearly 100 construction partners globally. DIRTT trades on Nasdaq under the symbol “DRTT” and on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “DRT”.