Design & Home  |  Real Estate

Would You Buy a House Built by Robots?

A pair of DC developers erected this one in a week.
Would You Buy a House Built by Robots?
Once the modular panels from Baltimore’s Blueprint Robotics arrived on-site, this house was erected within a week. Photograph of Exterior Courtesy of FarmHouse.Modern.

The pair of minimalist houses on DC’s fashionable Foxhall Road stand a bit taller and appear more modern than their more traditional neighbors. Otherwise, they resemble any other home. You’d never know they were built by robots in Baltimore.

“I don’t want to be in a space where we’re doing the same stuff as everyone else and it doesn’t improve anything,” says developer John Thompson. “The construction industry is one of the easiest to see where the flaws are.”

robot house
The house’s developer, Prefab Partners, says the more predictable building process saves money, allowing for higher-end finishes such as custom kitchen cabinets and wide-plank oak floors.

He and his partner, Steve Salis—owner of Kramerbooks and the Ted’s Bulletin chain—say they’ve resolved at least some of those flaws with their building technique. After years of researching prefabricated construction—in which components of a building are created off-site, then transported to and assembled on the lot—the pair landed on Blueprint Robotics as their supplier. The company’s Baltimore factory uses aerospace robotics to construct flat panels that are then assembled into walls, roofs, and floors.

robot house

Compared with human-dependent prefab factories, says Thompson, Blueprint’s product is unwavering in its quality: “You’re talking about putting a plan into a computer, and the robots are spitting it out consistently every single time.”

Also appealing is that building with flat panels works well for tight urban lots. Many other modular builders create large three-dimensional boxes that are put together with a crane like giant Legos. On a dense DC street with power lines and trees, hoisting and assembling such clunky components would be next to impossible.

robot houseOnce the panels arrived at the lots on Foxhall Road, crews erected the houses within a week. From there, they were outfitted with finishes and appliances, just as a typical home would be. Their sophisticated interiors include whitewashed oak floors, Porcelanosa bathroom tile, and custom kitchen cabinets. Thompson and Salis say they were able to use more luxurious finishes because of the savings involved in a quicker, more predictable building process.

robot house

 

The houses—the first built in the District using Blueprint’s aerospace robotics—were under contract at publication time for $2.3 million each.

Though their first two projects are high-end, Thompson and Salis are looking into expanding into a range of prices. “The process is the process, whether we’re building $100,000 dwellings at an affordable level or 4,000-, 8,000-, 10,000-square-foot properties,” says Salis. “We think we can build up and down the stream.”

This article appears in the December 2018 issue of Washingtonian.

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Senior Editor

Marisa M. Kashino joined Washingtonian in 2009 as a staff writer, and became a senior editor in 2014. She was previously a reporter for Legal Times and the National Law Journal. She has recently written about the Marriott family’s civil war and the 50-year rebirth of 14th Street, and reported the definitive oral history of the Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt case. She lives in Northeast DC with her husband, two dogs, and two cats.