(Readers: Please note the blog about the 5th revolution in the US is constructed as a story. While not all chapters are linked, I think the story will be more meaningful by starting at the beginning.)

Scene: Jordan’s Office with Housing Guru (see earlier entries for initial discussion)

Jordan: “Guru, nice to see you. Where have you been hiding?”

122213_1351_10GurusIdea1.gifGuru: “Hiding from you so I can get some work done. Actually, I’ve been revising the plan to economically rebuild housing in Detroit – at least part of it.”

Jordan: “Great. I am all ears because POTUS is interested also. What do you have?”

Guru: “POTUS? You’re kidding. You talked to POTUS about this?”

Jordan: “He called me. Met him at the White House. Saying he’s interested in this project is an understatement. He views Detroit as a template for many cities.”

Guru: “That’s good and bad. This project has become very high profile.”

Jordan: “You wanted to rebuild your architectural practice. Well, here’s the chance. Now, we need get this project going. The next call from someone on POTUS’s staff will be asking for a progress report, not just ideas.”

Guru: “Glad he agrees problems in Detroit are not unique, just the most visible. Many US cities have an eroding tax base, high legacy pension costs and infrastructure in need of serious repair.”

Jordan: “Guru, I agree completely. Now we need to layout specific ideas for Detroit and a timeline for implementation.”

Guru: “The idea is simple and what we discussed. Convert existing industrial structures into residential and commercial space.”

Jordan: “That’s what I told POTUS. His question was, ‘Isn’t converting a factory to housing expensive and fraught with problems?'”

Guru: “And I hope you said ‘likely’ unless you think modular.”

Jordan: “Exactly what I said. You’ve trained me well. We also discussed how we need to overcome the negative perception of modular.”

Guru: “I understand. Maybe a start would be to include photos of the modular homes that I designed and built in Charlotte.”

122213_1311_9Guruandthe4.jpgJordan: “Very nice homes and much better than I expected. Now, how do we, in Ricky Ricardo terms, ‘splain’ the modular concept to prospective buyers, the public and financiers?”

Guru: “I’ve done a simulation using CAD of using modular in a factory. We can combine the simulation with the video I did of the houses being assembled in Charlotte.”

Jordan: “By the way, before I forget, POTUS is arranging meetings with head of HUD and senior legislators in Southeast Michigan. We need to have some presentation ready for those meetings.”

Guru: “Jordan, you remind me of my clients. Here’s an idea. What can I look at tomorrow?”

Jordan: “You and I know this is a big deal and great opportunity. We need to be ready.”

Guru: “I know. Let me outline the general content of the pitch.”

Jordan: “Keep going.”

Guru: “The idea is build the units in one factory and install them in a former factory that is now empty. We are replacing a slab of dirt where a house usually sits with a slab of factory floor.”

Jordan: “What other differences?”

Fisher 21Guru: “The rest is fairly straightforward. The factory needs to have enough floor-to-ceiling height to handle the modular unit and some crawl space — for support braces and any adjustments to level the floor – and some space above for ventilation. But most factories have more than enough room.”

Jordan: “What about width. Aren’t there big support posts in these buildings?”

Guru: “Yes, but generally the posts are far enough apart to create adequate living space in between.”

Jordan: “So the module is built in a factory, like today, and then transported to the site. Once there the unit slides in the building?’

Guru: “Yes. But the factory for modular units can be set up next to the building to be rehabbed.  Lots of creative thinking to make that happen but that is a good description. Some units are bedrooms, some are kitchens and baths. It is easy to mix and match.”

Jordan: “What about plumbing and electrical? Are you going to use what’s in the building?”

Guru: “All the plumbing and electrical are on the outside walls of the modular unit so hook-ups are easy and maintenance is easy. The plumbing and electrical from all the units converge at a central location and link to the existing infrastructure. The unit could have a separate unit for purifying water and generating electricity – like the one you’ve been working on.”

Jordan: “How wide are these units?”

Guru: “No more than 20′ for a lot of reasons.”

Jordan: “So once inside the existing building, can you somehow link these units together to make say a three-bedroom apartment?”

Guru: “There are tricks to hooking the units together but yes. And with some creative designs, most people will never know.”

Jordan: “What about all the crud in some of those old buildings? I think of the assembly plants and sheet-metal plants I’ve been in. Who knows what stuff is really in there.”

Guru: “Remediation needs to be completed for the major problems. There are all kinds of products to seal floors, ceilings, pipes, etc. Besides all the plumbing and electrical will be new.”

Jordan: “Could you use this same idea to rehab old hotels, apartment buildings, college dorms?”

Guru: “Each of those could be done. Old factories have the most flexibility because the openings are generally larger. When the opening is smaller – hotel room, or even some factories for example – the modular unit might have to be assembled in the living space. You know, like final assembly of a car.”

Jordan: “Most people do not realize how much sub-assembly there is in a car or truck. Final assembly is the most fun to watch.”

Guru: “We could do a lot of sub-assembly work offsite and do final assembly on site.”

Jordan: “Either way do you think the rehab cost will be competitive?'”

Guru: “Yes. It is also important that total costs are considered. What is the value for taxpayers of a building sitting empty versus one that has people living in it? What is the cost to the city of tearing down a building versus rehabbing it? A lot of times people just compare the cost per square foot of new construction to the cost per square foot of the rehab. Those comparisons do not consider the other costs. Yes, the proposal is competitive.”

Jordan: “This is a great start, Guru. Hats off to you. When can I get some drawings for the upcoming meetings?”

Guru: “You never let up do you. Look, I’m not a meeting guy, especially for political stuff. My shtick is architecture. And my real expertise is making existing spaces more functional and more attractive. And what I really dislike is seeking funding for these projects.”

Jordan: “I can help with meetings and the funding, although no guarantees on funding. Everyone agrees if the project in Detroit is successful, other projects will follow in Detroit and elsewhere.”

Guru: “That potential is exciting.”

Jordan: “One of our hurdles in rebuilding Detroit will be overcoming all the bad press. A lot of people think Detroit caused all of its problems. I agree many problems were self inflicted but not all.”

Guru: “You bad-mouthing Detroit?”

Jordan: “I am not bad-mouthing Detroit. But I am being realistic. Detroit has been in decline for nearly 50 years. It might take the next 50 years to complete the turnaround.”

Guru: “It would help me tremendously if I understood what Detroit was like and the vision for where it wants to go. I can integrate some of the history and the vision into the designs.”

Jordan: “OK, I’ll tell you what I know. But let’s get some coffee first.”