On the eve of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, the design-build and technology firm Katerra announced a broad series of products aimed at improving the quality and lowering the cost and delivery time of design and construction projects.
The Silicon Valley company’s new offerings will be launched throughout 2019. They include a building platform tool that allows for design and mass customization, manufacturing, and construction of market-rate, garden-style, and affordable multifamily housing. Also in this panoply of goods and services are Apollo, a software platform that manages design, cost, material, and schedule data for the lifecycle of any building type; structural and panel systems made from cross-laminated timber (CLT) that can be flat-packed for shipping and field assembly; proprietary energy and HVAC systems known as KES and KTAC, respectively; a bathroom kit designed for rapid field assembly; windows; and two series of interior fixtures and finishes, KOVA and KOVA Select, which include lighting, plumbing fixtures, flooring, and tile.
Katerra will also open two new high-tech manufacturing facilities in 2019—one in Spokane, Washington, that will make CLT, and another in Tracy, California, that will produce building components such as utility walls, cabinets, and truss assemblies. The company plans to establish similar facilities on the East Coast in future years, though it declined to discuss specifics. “Down the line, for cost efficiency, we aim to have 80 percent of our projects located within 500 miles of one of our factories,” says Trevor Schick, president of Katerra Materials and a former manufacturing executive at Hewlett-Packard.
By adding a portfolio of products to its existing design-build services, Katerra is doubling down on its ambition to become a fully integrated one-stop shop for buildings—the Amazon of design and construction, if you will. With more than 5,000 employees worldwide, “the company has taken a collaborative and inclusive approach to working with builders, architects, and others to inform its strategy,” says Craig Curtis, president of Katerra Architecture, who was previously a partner at the Miller Hull Partnership.
The firm’s investment in CLT is a bet that mass timber, more commonly used in Europe and Canada, will gain broader acceptance in the U.S. due to its durability and smaller environmental footprint relative to steel and concrete. Recent proposals to update U.S. building codes for mass timber structures have paved the way for approval of timber-framed buildings up to 18 stories tall, far higher than its current limit of five stories. That being said, Katerra’s new multifamily housing building tool can be used for both timber- and lightweight steel-framed structures, giving it broader application in today’s U.S. market.
Curtis wouldn’t name the number of architects Katerra currently employs on a full-time or contractual basis, but points to its acquisitions and partnerships to indicate the importance of architecture to the company’s mission. Since 2017, Katerra has acquired Nystrom Olson Architecture in Spokane as well as Michael Green Architecture of Vancouver and the multi-based office of Lord Aeck Sargent. The Texas architects Lake|Flato and Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates are listed as collaborators. “Right now we can’t be in all markets at all times, so having strong relationships with firms that offer expertise in needed areas will be crucial to our long-term success,” he says.
Over time, Katerra plans to roll out platforms similar to its multifamily tool for all types of buildings, enabling designs based on kits of parts that are tailored to the needs of the client, program, site, and climate. Curtis says its system offers architects “the best of both worlds, enabling designers to spend time on the details that matter rather than reinventing the wheel with every project.”
As of July 2018, Katerra had $3.7 billion in bookings for multifamily and commercial projects. Among them is K90, a 24-unit garden apartment building in Las Vegas designed to be built in just 90 days.