The Reasons Offsite


“The Reasons Offsite” is a virtual/immaterial exhibition about prefabricated and modular building systems. The purpose of creating this curatorial project is to organize, embody and share the research work that has been done by SUMMARY studio for the last three years, as a fundamental tool for its architectural practice. Prefabricated and modular building systems are simply defined as “offsite architecture” hereinafter.

* The exhibition is current in display (from March 16th to 24th) at the Boston Society of Architects (Boston, USA)


Considering that offsite architecture is hardly a new subject, why is it important to talk about it in the present?

The reasons are summarized in 2 facts:

Fact no.1: People are moving around faster in global terms, particularly towards cities, creating a high demand for spaces to live and stay at. Nowadays, there are 3 billion people living in cities, but the number is expected to rise to around 5 billion by 2030, with 2 billion living under the poverty line. It’s the first time in history that we face this kind of brutal increase in such a short period. This means that new strategies need to be defined in order to accommodate this population faster than ever. The problem is old, but its magnitude is new.

Fact no.2: We continuously observe a growing need for speed and cost restraints enhanced by a globally accelerated society, which every day satisfies its hunger for immediacy through the products and services of companies like IKEA, Uber or Airbnb.

These 2 facts, seemingly unrelated, have one thing in common. They both call for pragmatism and set the same challenge to architecture: time and physical resource optimization. These requirements are also the main struggles of offsite architecture, and this project highlights them well. However, it also shows that most of the offsite attempts failed as they didn’t reach the expected scale, rapidity or affordability.

On the one hand, the offsite approach seems to be the appropriate architectural answer for the occurring challenges, though on the other hand the recent history shows that in most cases it didn’t stand its ground in a real-life situation. There are always lots of forces at play and generated conflicts, which ruin the apparent simplicity. In “The Reasons Offsite” exhibition, these conflicts are analyzed from several perspectives, through the critical view of participants with different backgrounds and experiences:

Yona Friedman, Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa (Ensamble Studio), Pablo Jimenez-Moreno, Pedro Alonso & Jorge Christie

Standardization vs. customization, machination vs. humanization, science vs. art are examples of conflicts to be elaborated.



The exhibition is composed of two parts:

1st part:

The project presents a collection of buildings and building systems significant in the historical evolution of offsite architecture. The goal is to create a radiography of the different stages of this evolution.

This content answers four main questions:

When? Where? How? Why?

All this information is shown in a virtual reality environment. Each case is represented by a corresponding 3D model, a text and picture material. The choice of the medium offers the visitor a new kind of experience: to go through a painstakingly composed, unique content about 25 different buildings all around the world, collected in a 20 x 20 m virtual space.

2nd part:

The invited participants share their thoughts on the subject, through a projected display of texts and images. They elaborate the conflicts described previously, trying to foresee the future possibilities of offsite architecture and its potential to address the contemporary urban challenges.

The composition of the project provides a complex experience for the audience: as an input, there stands the research material about offsite architecture in virtual reality, followed by the critical view of the participants.


The exhibition shows some visionary examples of offsite architecture in form of scale models. The choice of the examples was done avoiding judgments on topics such as aesthetics or economic success, and instead, taking into consideration only the features that made those buildings precursors in the field of offsite construction. The models are arranged into groups/motives, representing the main reason the project was conceived for:

– Exploration (e.g. Manning Colonial Cottage)
– Emergency situation (e.g. Airoh house)
– Cost-optimization (e.g. Sears Catalogue Homes)
– Technological statement (e.g. Crystal Palace)
– Lifestyle paradigm (e.g. Nakagin Tower)


The exhibition forms a matrix of models embedded in an undefined space. The lack of a predetermined route (despite the presence of a reference system) and the interactive nature of the exhibits allow the visitor to create his own path through the exhibition, based on his own choices. The interactive system furthermore enables the visitors to highlight only certain themes in order to help understand and decode the complexity of the topic. For instance, they can choose to analyze only the examples assigned to the cost-optimization group, ignoring all the others. CHECK OUR DEMO VIDEO HERE


Virtuality, as a manner to show the exhibition, is applied for three reasons: 1st Virtuality is a characteristic of offsite architecture – it is pro-duced in a place to be used in another context, in a different reality. 2nd The virtual format allows to exhibit in a sustainable, and at the same time affordable way. Transferring the content to the destina-tion doesn’t require sending heavy packages, enabling the elimina-tion of costs and waste. 3rd This is a flexible way to display the information, thus the exhibi-tion is adaptable to rooms with different dimensions and configura-tions. The exhibition is based on Oculus Rift System VR technology.

Computer requirements:

OS: Windows 10
CPU: AMD Ryzen 1700x / Intel Core i-7 – 6700k or superior
GPU: AMD Radeon rx480 / NVidia GTX 1070 or superior
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: SSD, minimum free disk space 16 GB PORTS: 1 free HDMI (GPU) for headset, 2 x USB 3.0 + 3 x USB 2.0

Required services:

cleaning lenses during the exhibition
continuous electricity and internet connection
turning on pc(s)
check exhibition operativity and communicate eventual issues to the technical responsible


What prompted this research project?

As an architectural practice, SUMMARY focus at the development of modular and prefab building systems, seeking the optimisation of time and physical resources. To work on that, we have been researching about this offsite building systems, from mid-19th century to the present. At some point, roughly a year ago, we just realised we had collected a very vast library of information about modular and prefab projects, a database which was a fundamental tool for our work. So this project born naturally, with the will to organize, embody and share this research work we developed for a couple years. The interesting part is that it came up as a result of the daily work of the studio, under professional and non-academic circumstances.

What tools did you use throughout the research?

The research process was admittedly messy. We used everything, from books to internet, from instagram pictures to real architectural models, always aiming to rebuild in the most authentic way the projects we were presenting in the exhibition. In some cases we had the privilege of getting original 3D models of the buildings, directly from their authors.

What is the power of the exhibition? How important of a format has it become for the architect?

This exhibition has the power to highlight the conflict of the success and the failure of offsite architecture. We are experiencing a very particular moment. There’s a brutal increase of the world urban population, which is about to double within the next 20 years. At the same time, there’s a growing need for speed and cost restraints enhanced by a global and accelerated society which every day satisfies its hunger for immediacy through the products and services of companies like IKEA, Uber or Airbnb. It pictures a global call for pragmatism and, consequently, it is challenging architecture to become faster and more efficient. It is what offsite architecture has been trying to do, as the prefab approach seems to be the appropriate architectural answer for these occurring challenges. However, most of the offsite attempts just failed. They didn’t reach the expected scale, rapidity or affordability. What are the reasons behind this imminent fail of offsite architecture? This is the question that “The Resons Offsite” helps to respond.

What defined the use of Virtual Reality?

Virtuality, as a manner to show the exhibition, is applied for three reasons:
1. Virtuality is an inherent characteristic of offsite architecture – it is produced in a place to be used in another context, in a different reality.
2. The virtual format allows to exhibit in a sustainable and at the same time affordable way. Transferring the content to the destination doesn’t require sending heavy packages, enabling the elimination of costs and waste.
3. This is a flexible way to display the information, it doesn’t depend on the characteristics of the physical space, so the exhibition is adaptable to rooms with different dimensions and configurations.

How and to what extent will this tool keep on evolving and play an ever so more prominent role for the architect?

I guess virtual reality (VR) soon will be much more than just a communication tool for architects. The potential of this tool is much bigger than being just a cool way to show your projects. Actually it’s already happening. As an example, we have the case of OBOS, a Norwegian cooperative building association doing the first steps using VR as a tool for the workers who prepare building components on factory. In that case, VR is not a communication tool. It’s used to optimise an industrialised building process, to accelerate the production and to eliminate the paper waste inside the factory.

How does virtual reality affect the role of the visitor?

In this case the visitor is able to select the themes or the buildings he wants to observe, highlighting them and hiding all the others. In that sense, the exhibition works as a digital data-base, where the visitor can apply some filters to select the information he wants to see. At the same time the visitor can touch and rotate the architectural models, using the handles that integrate the Oculus Rift kit we use in this exhibition. This is something you wouldn’t be allowed to do in a traditional exhibition display. VR, as a medium, provides real-time interactivity.

What defined the use of the model, the picture and the text as elements which exists within this new virtual environment?

It was the way we found to communicate in an organised way all the information we had. Ironically, being disruptive in its medium, “The Reasons Offsite” is a very traditional exhibition regarding its content. Models, pictures and texts is kind of a classical triptych of an architectural exhibition.

You talk about virtual reality as a sustainable and flexible format for exhibitions, how important are these criteria nowadays?

Exhibitions are not representative in terms of waste production. However they are powerful means to pass messages. If you build a zero-waste exhibition you are not saving the world but you are giving a strong message to the audience. Besides to provide an experience, an exhibition should promote the construction of knowledge and critical mass about the present day political, social and environmental context. This is the intangible impact of responsible curatorship.


SUMMARY is an architectural studio based in the Science and Technology Park of the University of Porto, Portugal, which focuses on the development of modular building systems, seeking the optimization of time and physical resources.