US: New Los Angeles-based start-up Cover is combining technology with a one-stop-shop approach to offer a point of difference in the prefabricated homes market.

Cover was founded by architects Alexis Rivas and Jemuel Joseph in 2014 to build precision-designed homes using a unique methodology; their process starts by sending potential customers a survey of 50-100 questions pertaining to a variety of needs, then, unusually the company uses CATIA, a multi-platform software design suite developed by Dassault Systemes, to analyse the data and generate hundreds of unique building designs.

The program is widely used for manufacturing in the aerospace industry — Boeing used it to design the Boeing 777 and 787 airliners — but its uptake in the architecture industry is rare.

Cover’s algorithmic software is unique in its capacity for designing homes that are responsive to their environment.

For example it uses sun path and geospatial data to place windows in the optimal location to get light throughout the day, as well as optimising the home’s energy performance.

The company uses CNC machines and automated cutting tools to make the fabrication process seamless. Its structures are based on light weight steel frames – chosen for their strength, durability, lightness, and ability to be machined easily – and are covered with insulated, waterproofed panels that include electrical and plumbing systems. Once on-site, the whole unit snaps together like building a bookshelf from Ikea.

Cover typically targets the market for “accessory dwelling units,” in other words, extra, detached living spaces intended for use as a home office, guest bedroom or in-law suite. Most clients can get a complete design and price estimate within three business days for US$250.

US company Cover: designing homes using algorithmic software.

US company Cover: designing homes using algorithmic software.

Once permitting is completed, Cover can construct a unit within 12 weeks. Indicative prices for completed units run between US$70,000 for a guest room to US$250,000 for a two-bedroom unit. Over time, Rivas expects the cost to go down as uptake increases.

Still in its nascent stages, Cover recently purchased its own factory and has seven projects in the design phase. These range from a $90,000 backyard office/lounge to a $300,000 unit that has a bedroom and a full kitchen and is sited on a hillside.

All indications show Cover’s time has come. With Los Angeles mired in a housing and homeless crisis, the state of California recently made it easier to build accessory dwelling units, and Los Angeles lawmakers and housing advocacy groups have embraced the idea.■

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