Modular Apartment Construction - Early Design Assistor

Link to Design Journal
Journal Entry For
Module 8 - Make Your Pitch
ACC Folder Link
Created By
Swen Hendrickson
Related to 120C/220C Students - Spring 2022 (1) (Related to Design Journal Entries | Winter 2022 (Linked Student))


Mid-Sized apartment buildings will be a key part of building denser more transit-friendly cities over the next few decades. Having a way to assess design options for their costs and performance metrics will be useful in guiding early stage design choices and choosing architectural layout schemes. Given certain constraints like lot size, maximum height, and budget, I want to have a basic building block of one modular unit, and run through many stacked configurations to get key outputs regarding sustainability. The most logical and accessible outputs I can imagine pulling are roof area exposed to sun (for PVs and/or green roofs), and a surface area : volume ratio which will indicate the ability to heat / cool efficiently, as well as offer some indication of views and potential for natural ventilation.


This tool would be used by designers (architects/engineers) or design-build firms working on mid-sized modular apartment construction.


As mentioned in the Intro, there is a need for medium to large sized apartments to achieve density in cities. Places like the Bay Area are experiencing housing shortages, so adding lots of units quickly is a useful capability. Modular construction can make this process more efficient and streamlined with more uniform unit designs, off-site fabrication, and faster on-site assembly. Having a tool to run through options and compare sustainability and cost metrics would be useful for teams trying to produce such developments quickly.


Reasonable Inputs:

  • Fixed:
    • Lot Size
    • Maximum Height
    • Unit Size (a standard box shape and size, almost like a shipping container)
  • Varied:
    • Design Layout (presumably, these boxes can be stacked in a wide variety of configurations like Legos; thus we can imagine options with tiers, pyramid shapes, vertical walls, courtyards or gaps within, etc.)

Underlying Logic

With the given constraints, my model can play with different stacking patterns using Grasshopper’s Galapagos generative design tool. From that output, I can draw certain outputs like total roof area, total surface area, total volume, total floor area, etc. (Note: total floor area might somehow be a fixed input range, or perhaps included later in the chain as a filter/mask to eliminate generated options that do not fall within the required range.



  • Total Roof Area (for PV / green roofs / gardens)
  • Total Surface Area (for heat transfer; less is better and means lower OpEx)
  • Total Volume (if volume varies, Surface Area : Volume will be used to assess HVAC load efficiency)
  • Total Floor Area (will fall within a range, but greater means more rentable area)


  • EUI (Energy Use Intensity [kWh or kBtu/SF] based on HoneyBee energy modeling)
  • PV potential in kW or MW (based off LadyBug analysis)
  • NZE potential (based on energy demand and PV potential)