Closing a Chapter


Clay Chapman Speaks about the Completion of the First HFA Project

As we begin the next HFA iteration and bring closure to this field-test chapter of our affordable permanence exploration, it’s important to clarify what has been accomplished.  For a significant portion of the market (10 – 15% represented primarily by the Upper-Middle Class), we have established a definitive dollar for dollar alternative to conventional stick framing using a building model based on a structural masonry envelope. Important to clarify that this is not a composite wall design.  The nominal 12 inch mass walls are composed of triple wythe, common bond, clay brick masonry.

It’s safe to say, the controls of our experiment were not absolutely within our control.  Clients were involved and upgrades are a business reality that must be accommodated regularly within the design/build profession. Additions, such as the slate roof, naturally pulled us away from the initial $80 per square foot goal.  There were a significant number of masonry and carpentry related details that went above and beyond the original plan as well.  And to be completely forth coming, many people volunteered assistance just because they wanted to be a part of it.  While it’s understandable that this type of pro bona enthusiasm can’t be factored into a business plan, it is indicative of something else worth considering: there’s a real spirit of cooperation out there when it comes to rethinking the way we build things — people want to be excited about building. Real building.  It has something to do with a nearly palpable vacuum for authenticity in our culture.  When I spoke at the American College of Building Arts (ACBA) last spring, the number of young people there who were turning to the artisan trades for meaning and purpose in their lives was first surprising, then validating but ultimately, it was inspiring.

When we talk about scalability, we’re essentially referencing production rates and profitability.  Our goal is to establish several different Concept price points that can satisfy the housing market broadly.  We will deliver on the lower end of that spectrum.  Diversity is key to growing healthy communities.  In order to be diverse we must address the varying life styles and capacities of a diverse populous.  And we must develop a methodology that can be executed by the local trade pools of almost any region without too much hand holding.


HFA Proof of Concept Field Test                                              Williamsburg Small House

Compare the two dwellings above in terms of detail and aesthetic attention.  The difference is substantial. Now compare them in terms of their authenticity and life cycle.  Here, they are virtually identical.  Lastly, compare either of them to the first thing that comes to mind on hearing the term “tract home.’ No guidance on that one.  The point to be made is this: Clearly we can do a great deal more to minimize cost further, while still satisfying the ultimate goal of multi-century life cycle; while still circumventing a faux based building culture with a rigorous and unapologetic honesty; while still expressing a true architectural character and virtue, not merely cosmetically, but structurally — for the Ages!

The second HFA project will be of similar detail to that of the Field test in Columbus, GA.  It will be constructed in Decatur, Ga (just 10 minutes or so southeast of Atlanta) where new construction price points average around $150.00 per square foot not including lot cost.  The project will take several months longer than a conventionally built house, and the margin will follow this increased production period.  It’s incredibly important to note that one of the many things we’ve learned so far in this journey is the need to clearly understand where our effort will yield the most in terms of affecting real change.  That portion of the market inextricably attached to the familiar is not the ideal candidate . But that portion represented largely by young, educated professionals who are culturally mobile and intellectually informed — this is the epicenter for innovation in America; this is the Upper Middle Class where orthodoxy holds no particular sway; where radical solutions find whole hearted footing. These are the trail blazers — hungry for change and prepared to be among the firsts adopters.

When we began the project in Columbus, our intent was to film a documentary about the processes involved with the construction of one house.  But as we moved forward it became increasingly apparent that the narrative was going to be much broader than this.  We are asked consistently about the film and how it is developing, and we appreciate the interest and desire to see this production become a reality.  Within the next year, we will begin campaigning to raise the very necessary funding required to tell this story.  And it’s important to understand, we will not be raising money to get this new idea off the ground — it’s already in the air.  We’re doing it, and picking up speed.  But we need to tell the story.  Folks need to know that affordable multi-century architecture is possible and they need to know how that possibility can become a reality for our built environment.

In the mean time, we look forward to sharing the progress of this next endeavor with you.  Your inquiry, support and general feedback are very important to us, and with your help we hope to continue to cultivate a spirit of dialogue that will be informing and inspiring for everyone.

Warm Regards,
Clay Chapman

Let building incite wonder and celebrate possibility — then call it Architecture.

2 Responses to Closing a Chapter

  1. Michael Leistiko

    I’m willing to support your future efforts by contributing monetarily. Telling your story always has a cost tied to it. This story is very valuable to future of home building. Love the term “multi-century architecture.” Most people are not going to readily understand the words. Once it becomes clear what this means, they will see the value. I hope others share some resources to further your goals.


  2. Matt Fitzgerald


    Congratulations to you and your crew on this remarkable achievement. I’ve casually followed this work over the past year and have been at various points inspired, invigorated, discouraged, encouraged, and ultimately elated by the outcome of your work here.

    Your ideas for building sustainably permanent and affordable housing resonate loud and clear with traditional architects like me. The beauty of it all as I see it is that you have proven that the solution isn’t in some new-fangled technotronic green gadgetry. Rather the solution lay before all of us in tried and true sustainably permanent materials. I always marvel at solutions to difficult problems that are inherently simple as they are often the most effective. You and your team have done just that.

    Congratulations on HFA 1 and Good luck on HFA 2.

    Matt Fitzgerald


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