Technology

Inside Kit Switch's Go-To-Market: Standardizing Adaptive Reuse

Innovation start-up Kit Switch co-founder Candice Delamarre delves into how to apply a plug-and-play prefabrication solution to a vast unmet need for economically-viable adaptive reuse.

Technology

Inside Kit Switch's Go-To-Market: Standardizing Adaptive Reuse

Innovation start-up Kit Switch co-founder Candice Delamarre delves into how to apply a plug-and-play prefabrication solution to a vast unmet need for economically-viable adaptive reuse.

December 21st, 2021
Inside Kit Switch's Go-To-Market: Standardizing Adaptive Reuse
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What are the issues with adaptive reuse and what is Kit Switch’s unique offering for developers, and their architect and general contractor partners? With these questions hanging, we concluded the second installment of my five-part "Innovator's Journal" series for The Builder's Daily. To understand this question, let’s contextualize and define adaptive reuse.

Here, you can access the previous episodes:

Where we left off last time, we discussed the small – yet growing -- portion of adaptive reuse projects in overall housing developments in the 2010s.

However, something it does not give is a more precise look at the past years and the accelerated post-COVID shift our built environment is experiencing in the embrace of adaptive reuse. In October 2021, RentCafe shared results from a recent study in an article, “Record Apartment Conversions Make 2021 Most Successful Year in Adaptive Reuse.”

Source: Rent Cafe

What is Adaptive Reuse?

First, what do these words even mean? Architects and designers reading this article are probably well familiar with this term.

However, for all of you who are not, let me give you a brief overview. I find Wikipedia’s definition very clear:

Adaptive reuse refers to the process of reusing an existing building for a purpose other than what it was originally built or designed for."

The first major adaptive reuse project in the United States took place in San Francisco, where Kit Switch is located. The site of the Ghirardelli chocolate factory and headquarters, bought by Domenico Ghirardelli in 1893 and designed into what became an iconic landmark by architects Lawrence Halprin and William Wurster, morphed through the adaptive reuse process in 1964 into a specialty retail and dining complex.

This method effectively applies circular-economy principles to the built environment, making use of the buildings we already have instead of building from the ground up. By optimizing resource-use yields, developers can achieve benefits across three key areas: economic savings on input costs by reducing time and wasted materials; minimizing negative environmental impact; and catalyzing community support and embrace.

In an articleComparative whole-building life cycle assessment of renovation and new construction,” V. Hasik et al. show the environmental benefits of adaptive reuse over group-up construction. Their findings align with other studies. Structural and envelope systems, they assert, account for the majority of embodied carbon in buildings and could be used for more than 60 years, much longer than they tend to be used today. Additionally, interior components and finishes have a large carbon impact on renovation projects. There exists a mostly-untapped opportunity for further emission reductions -- an opportunity that Kit Switch is tackling through design for manufacturing, optimized MEP (mechanical, electrical, plumbing) networks, and sustainable materials.

What I hope is evident by now is that we believe adaptive reuse projects have positive impacts and can be really successful. Obviously, this is the reason I am writing about it today; it's also the reason adaptive reuse has become a bulwark of focus among so many organizations. When my Kit Switch team participated in Hack-A-House – a housing innovation competition organized by Ivory Innovations – in 2020, and then again when I participated as a judge in 2021, many student teams had brainstormed innovative approaches to apply adaptive reuse as a solution.

Barriers and Challenges

However, there is a catch. As one-off projects, adaptive reuse can be costly and a time-suck.

This is due in part to the constraints of current prevailing practices, i.e. traditional construction methods for adaptive reuse, approaching the projects as one-offs. A lot of ink has spilled on these challenges, and if you are reading The Builder’s Daily, you are probably well aware of them; no need for me to expand.

Innovation in construction comes in a variety of forms and formats. One of them focuses particularly on productization, also known as industrialized construction.

Industrialized construction does not mean prefabrication only. For those who are interested in learning more about all the different dimensions of industrialized construction, I recommend following the research at The Stanford Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE). Led by Prof. Martin Fischer, the CIFE community brings together stakeholders in the AEC (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) industry with this aim:

To move the industry towards a more resilient, innovative, and sustainable built environment with measurable improvements.”

[Author's note: As part of our graduate studies, my teammates and I were exposed to their work and are very grateful for their support. In the early days of Kit Switch, we had the opportunity to present our work during the Center's 2021 Industrialized Construction (IC) Forum. Recordings from last year are available here. The next IC Forum will take place on February 2, 2022.]

The Kit Switch difference

How can we leverage industrialized construction methods to facilitate adaptive reuse?

At Kit Switch, we design prefabricated interior wall panels for developers to seamlessly add kitchens and bathrooms to existing structures. Our kit is an end-to-end tool. In other words, we include both hardware and digital models that integrate directly into architect and contractor workflows.

In keeping with modular construction trends, our panels are standardized and prefabricated offsite. As with other fabricators, these functional units arrive on-site flat-packed; they are simple to manoeuver and install; and they can be combined into a variety of plug-and-play layouts. By standardizing the key pain points of adaptive reuse projects, Kit Switch simplifies design for architects, eases installation for contractors, and reduces costs and timelines for developers compared with new construction and traditional retrofits.

Accompanying the product, we develop proprietary digital services that guide stakeholders through the conversion process. With our software platform, we can assess the feasibility of adaptive reuse when the project is still in the ideation phase. We evolved in-house adaptive reuse expertise specifically to help with design assistance to architects and contractors. We also host a digital library of our kit components in prevalent design software such as Autodesk Revit. With this tool, users can access clear pricing for the kits needed upfront, which gives developers total transparency. Finally, general contractors and maintenance teams will also receive assistance through kit manuals.

Admittedly, trying to standardize adaptive reuse project gets complicated. As-built floor plans vary from one building to another, and an array of other existing conditions can vary even more so. Those varied conditions add up to complexity.

What differentiates Kit Switch is that we've designed a plug-n-play product specifically with adaptive reuse in mind. The kit includes standard components which can be placed independently. This way, our exchangeable components can accommodate different buildings and geometries. Think of it as multi-trade bathroom and kitchen panels, connected as plug-and-play fixtures at the end of the building’s MEP network. This is how the Kit Switch model can save on time, cost, and carbon – reusing existing structures while providing faster timelines and clearer pricing than traditional interior work.

In the next episode, just after the New Year, we are excited to share updates on the newly incorporated Kit Switch, PBC. I will walk you through details on strategic partnerships, pilot projects research, and product development as we journey to bring Kit Switch to life.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Candice Delamarre

Candice Delamarre

Co-founder, COO, Kit Switch

Candice Delamarre, a recent Stanford University graduate, is co-founder and principal in Kit Switch, a Bay Area start-up committed to affordable housing by integrating trades in building components.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Candice Delamarre

Candice Delamarre

Co-founder, COO, Kit Switch

Candice Delamarre, a recent Stanford University graduate, is co-founder and principal in Kit Switch, a Bay Area start-up committed to affordable housing by integrating trades in building components.

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