KRDB’s modular division fulfills the growing need for higher density housing models.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media
KRDB specializes in bringing extraordinary, affordable architecture to life. Principal Chris Krager founded the company 17 years ago with the intention of making modern design economically and intellectually accessible to the masses through KRDB’s development, design and build of multifamily structures and single-family homes.
As a vertically integrated and entrepreneurial firm in Austin, Texas, KRDB received national attention early, and with this followed inquiries to develop in different markets throughout the country. If a project was further than a 45-minute radius from Austin, the company could offer design services only, but quickly realized the general contractors in other markets were not able to replicate its modern design affordably.
“About 15 or 16 years ago, most GCs that were familiar with modern were doing high-end projects and our primary focus as a design/build firm was to make modern design more accessible,” Krager says. “That was our motivation to start modular construction and we’ve been building modular residences for just over 10 years now.”
KRDB launched its ma modular division initially as a single-family endeavor, but within a few years began to explore higher density models, which Krager calls the “missing middle,” that are particularly suited to modular construction. The company has been working with development teams in Austin, Los Angeles and New York to implement these models.
“Not many firms specialize in modular construction,” Krager adds. “It’s difficult to get a foothold in the industry because the thing that makes modular work is scale. It’s a factory-built environment, so you have to be cognizant of the limitations. As a design/build firm with a focus on creating high-quality yet affordable architecture, we made it our pursuit to understand those limitations and work within those parameters.”
Manufacturers want redundancy and repeat floor plans when it comes to producing single-family modular homes, which is why ma modular offers 12 different styles to choose from. “We looked at where the biggest demand is and the floor plans on the ma modular website are the result of collecting data, feedback and sales from previous clients,” Krager says. “We see these as the our best niches.”
The ‘Missing Middle’
In terms of multifamily modular building, each project tends to be custom because the sites are all different. The company can do that with larger scale projects because the manufacturer is building 25,000 to 150,000-square-foot projects. “The primary advantages of modular construction are simplified logistics, a reliable schedule, building in a controlled environment (not exposed to the elements) and the product is under regular inspection,” Krager notes. “We hope to shave three to four months off the total time.”
KRDB’s ma modular recently broke ground on MLK, a mixed-use project on a half-acre on East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Austin. The 24,000-square-foot, three-story building will feature 19 residences with shared courtyard space in the middle. “We prioritized quality over quantity,” Krager says. “Our entitlements allowed for three to four times the density of what we are building, but we were more concerned with creating high-quality space.”
Ventura, in collaboration with LOF Partners in Los Angeles, is another mixed-use development of KRDB’s in Ventura, Calif., that sits on six acres. The modular construction project will feature 125 units over 166,000 square feet with about 25 percent being affordable housing units. KRDB’s proposed revisions to an already approved site plan in order to create a more pedestrian-friendly and landscape oriented project, pushes parking off to the perimeter.
On Ventura Ave., there will be ground floor commercial property with residential units above. Behind that row of buildings is residential and townhouse construction. “We are using parking stacker technology to minimize the impact of the parking footprint, making it a walkable neighborhood,” Krager says. “It’s all modular construction except for the commercial space.”
Krager draws inspiration for KRDB’s developments from the Case Study houses on the West Coast and the Eichler houses. “They were early attempts to bring modern architecture to the masses,” he says. “There was a strong conviction that everyone deserved to dwell in good space. Midcentury California architecture was a strong basis for our practice in the beginning.”
Moving forward, KRDB anticipates increased demand for modular construction to fill demand for the “missing middle,” which Krager says its MLK and Ventura projects represent. “The next 10 years look promising from a growth perspective in the markets we have been focusing on, which include Central Texas an d Southern California,” he adds. “We are keeping busy in these markets and keeping our focus on this niche. The trend towards re-urbanization will present great opportunities for the foreseeable future.”