On the plaza of a mall-turned-office-space is now a living room.
Outside of it, people go in and out of the building, wait in line at food trucks and eat lunch at patio tables. Inside, there’s room to play board games, a desk to work, a Murphy bed for guests and the latest tech from Comcast — all in 190 square feet.
Module, a Pittsburgh startup and AlphaLab Gear company, builds incremental housing — you buy a starter home, and add on rooms as needed. For AlphaLab and AlphaLab Gear Demo Day on May 24, the startup built a model addition to showcase. (Watch Module’s demo day presentation here at about 1:25.)
And a week ago, using a semi truck, forklift and dolly carts, the Module unit moved to the plaza of Nova Place in Allegheny Center, where it will stay as a model home. Module is also in the early stages of working on its first residential units in the North Side, company CEO Brain Gaudio said.
The unit will be available for tours during the Nova Place Party on the Plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 21 and at the Open Streets Pittsburgh After Party from noon to 4 p.m. June 25. Plus, members of the Alloy 26 co-working space can book it as a conference space. (Hey! That means The Incline can have meetings there.)
Module started as a solution for affordable housing, Gaudio said. Homes are getting bigger, but family size is dropping, so a house that grows with the owner or owners’ family and income is sensible, he said.
“You build as much as you need,” Gaudio said.
To start, potential residents take a housing personality quiz on Module’s website to find the best starter unit that fits their needs. If you’re coming to the Nova Place party, Gaudio said, visitors can take the quiz, then use virtual reality to explore their matching unit.
Once owners have a starter home, they can add rooms or even entire floors as they need then and can afford them. The company offers three starter units at 500, 1,000 and 1,200 square feet.
Additions range from about 190 square feet (like the one at Nova Place) to about 500 square feet on the bigger end. Gaudio said the same builders do the additions, and Module acts as an architect and realtor.
This means there’s a lower cost to buying a home and owners can add on when they have the money instead of making large mortgage payments, Gaudio said. Although the model unit at Nova Place is on the small side for Module additions, he said incremental housing doesn’t mean tiny houses.
“A tiny house is limiting,” Gaudio said, adding that while it works for some people, it’s difficult to have a family in a tiny house.
Hallie Dumont, Module’s chief design officer, agreed. Not only is it hard to have a family, but it can be hard to find space for a tiny house in a city, she said.
Instead, incremental housing is a way to advance the way homes are built, she said, giving the example that car manufacturing has evolved to have fewer steps at a lower cost, but building houses happens the same “archaic” way. This approach reduces the steps and makes it more efficient at a lower cost, she said. (Module has not yet set prices for customers yet.)
Home on the plaza
The display Module unit isn’t just for anyone, Dumont said. The Module team built it with Kenny Chen, program director at Ascender, in mind.
He was the “faux client,” Dumont said, adding that the team sat down with him to talk about what he needed and wanted in a living space. On the list — a place to work, room to have board game nights and a place for guests to stay. With all that in mind, Dumont and Jodi Passerrello of Wall2Wall Contracting Service, built the unit in about a month to have it ready for Demo Day. On Wednesday, they were painting and doing finishing touches.
Consider the whole picture: This is just the living space and not a whole house. When you’re facing the unit, stairs, a bathroom and kitchen would be to the right, and the bedroom would be upstairs.
Inside, many of the materials are local, including from several local companies through Monmade. There’s a low table with expandable sides for games that grows taller to be a dining table. The cushions on a bench seat are locally made, too. A Murphy bed doubles as a desk.
Module also partnered with Comcast “to provide its Xfinity Home product, which provides a wide range of home security, automation and energy management controls through one seamless platform,” Gaudio said in an email.
Dumont said she plans to add to the exterior, too, with fake grass and plants.
Gaudio said the unit will help people realize what they’ve seen on paper or online from Module, but it’s just a step.
“We want to build real houses, that’s what we want to do,” he said.