An Interview with Blokable’s Timothy Miller
Bee Breeders, in partnership with ARCHHIVE Books, would like to present a preview article from an upcoming print publication “What is Affordable Housing”? This time we would like to introduce you to “Space. Shipped.”
Ten years after the popping of the last real estate bubble, a wave of startups has emerged in the competition to transform the housing industry. The product? Modular housing, for cheaper, more efficient homes. The modular home is hardly a new concept, but several companies have begun offering repackaged solutions with a wider array of options, technologies, and increased ease of implementation.
One modular housing startup, Blokable, offers solutions for building resilient communities with cities and developers. The Seattle-based company handles permitting with US-state regulatory agencies, allowing clients to sidestep at least one of the bureaucratic roadblocks to building new homes.
Its product is the ‘Blok’, a module that starts at 259 square feet, and is built to be connected to or stacked on other Bloks, up to five units high. The Blok meets International Building Code standards, and can meet LEED ratings. Prices range from $150 to $300 per square foot depending on customizable features and finish levels. Each Blok is has an integrated smart-home control platform for maintenance and metering data, a system aptly named ‘BlokSense’.
Blokable labels itself a technology company. Its CEO, Aaron Holm, is a former Amazon product manager. Timothy Miller, Blokable’s Co-Founder and VP of Design, led the design strategy and user prototyping programs for early development of the Amazon Go store. We connected with Timothy to discuss design, affordable housing, and the Blok.
Single Family Home with Custom Cladding
ARCHHIVE: Your background includes a mix of architecture and product design, with experience as a manager at Amazon, involved in the planning one of the first Amazon Go stores. What are your objectives as a designer at Blokable, and where do you see Blokable in the broad spectrum of housing and product design?
Timothy Miller: My past experience in the world of architecture deeply informed and shaped my objectives as a designer. Architecture and construction are service businesses where everyone is looking only to maximize profit on the current job. It is hard as a service business to take a long view and this opens the design and construction process to a sea of inefficiencies. It is really difficult to consistently create well-designed, custom projects, at a reasonable cost while maintaining compliance with regulatory standards and ensuring profitability.
That’s why at Blokable we pursued a process that aligns itself more with product design and manufacturing as opposed to traditional on-site construction. Viewing housing through the lens of product allows us to innovate and scale to a point where unrivaled quality comes at a fraction of price. It also allows us to minimize inefficiencies and uncertainties that plague traditional construction.
What do you consider to be Blokable’s role in the affordable housing crisis?
Our mission at Blokable is to build a new housing development platform that maximizes individual and community prosperity. By approaching housing as a scalable, high-quality product we are reinventing the way we design, build, finance, and deploy housing. Rather than relying on the construction industry to change its profit models or insufficient subsidies that are band-aids on a systemic financial problem, we’re leveraging our product approach to provide a new, essential service: housing development.
Housing development-as-a-service changes the profit model in housing, creating a truly inclusive equity ownership model that serves both developers and people living in these homes. By reinventing the way we deliver housing, Blokable is creating a human-level solution to a very human problem -- bringing together the optimal product and diverse aspects of public, private, and civil society into partnerships that provide high-quality housing, thriving communities and prosperity for all.
Blokable Team with its Roadshow Unit, 2017
Housing is such a complicated, regulated industry in the US. It’s no surprise that providing efficient, affordable housing which meets all required codes, is also difficult. So it is really great to hear that Blokable has partnered with regulatory agencies to make the Blok an approved dwelling in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California. What are the next regulatory hurdles that Blokable looks to tackle?
Housing regulations pose challenges to any housing provider, which is why Blokable partnered up with regulatory agencies. That said, Blokable’s manufacturing approach has significant advantages over traditional housing providers. Once Blokable gains approved dwelling status in the area, installing Blokable units becomes a repeatable process and that’s really where the product approach to housing shines. By eliminating inherent chaos and unpredictability that comes with custom projects, we can assess viability of a project in days and install our units shortly after site preparations are completed.
On the Blokable website there is an article written in appreciation for Tony Hsieh, CEO of the online shoe and clothing shop Zappos, and his personal investment in re-imagining downtown Las Vegas. What does Tony’s experiment in Las Vegas inspire in Blokable, and which of those ideas would you like to incorporate into Blokable’s future?
From a design perspective, Tony’s re-imagining downtown Las Vegas project is an incredible example of the powerful intersection of industrial design and architecture. One thing that is clearly important to Tony and is also important to us here at Blokable is the essence of community and the importance of connecting an architectural feat with its surrounding ecosystem. For Tony that included invigorating the Las Vegas startup scene and for us that means plugging into the unique environments of each of our Blokable communities.
Bloks can stack up to five units high.
Have you spent any time living in a Blok?
We’ve spent countless hours in our Blokable units prioritizing a human-centric approach to design. Our Bloks are designed to provide better, healthier, and happier lives for occupants. We achieve that by using advanced materials, smart color scheme, and controlling natural light in a way that makes our spaces feel larger and more welcoming. Our goal is to instill the tenant with sense of pride and dignity.
Bloks also comes with advanced sensor technology that monitors the use of electricity, water, and interior climate for the convenience of the tenant, but also tracks potentially damaging issues such as leaks, fire suppression systems triggers, air quality, and humidity for property managers and operators. We also embrace all technological developments and innovations in the space. I’m always interested in exploring other modular home options when I travel so that I’m constantly experiencing and learning what it’s like to live in a given environment. ●
Blokable Logo, blokable.com (twitter @blokable)
Timothy Miller is Blokable’s Co-Founder and VP of Design. He connects the dots between user experience, technology, and business. Through the lens of architect, human-centric industrial designer, and business strategist, he has successfully enhanced the customer experience of industry leaders Boeing, Best-Buy, Amazon, and LATAM Airlines. Tim speaks at industry conferences on the topic of design and user experience and has taught at the graduate level on the subject of merging physical environments and digital technology into holistic customer experiences. He has worked as a design leader within both agency and corporate environments, most notably AmazonGo, TEAGUE, and HOK Architects.
ARCHHIVE is an annual print publication expanding on the ideas presented in Bee Breeders’ online architectural design competitions. Bee Breeders is a generator of new ideas, conceived by a worldwide think tank, for tackling challenging design issues. It often works with civic, industry, or government partners to initiate its competitions, some of which are conceptual while others are intended to be built.
Each issue of ARCHHIVE will bring together architects with startups, entrepreneurs, developers, and problem-solving organizations which tackle these same global issues, often in ways other than building. ARCHHIVE merges the wealth of Bee Breeders’ novel architectural design proposals, with complementary ideas in entrepreneurship, policy, and technology.
Bee Breeders and ARCHHIVE are calling for essay submissions to be included in its inaugural issue. Share your thoughts about the global housing crisis, or solutions for affordable housing! Submit your ideas - either written or illustrated - here
Registration and submission deadline - August 25, 2018!