The New York Times explores how the American dream of housing came to life in Sweden

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Architect Ivan Rupnik believes the solution to America's affordable housing shortage is to build more houses quickly. However, traditional construction methods in the U.S. make rapid development challenging. Inspired by European modular housing projects from the 1950s and ’60s, Rupnik researched modular housing for his doctoral dissertation and discovered Operation Breakthrough, a U.S. initiative from 1971-1973 that built nearly 3,000 units using industrialized methods.

Operation Breakthrough, launched by HUD Secretary George Romney, aimed to industrialize housing construction to meet a demand of 26 million houses in 10 years. Despite its potential, the program was shut down by Congress in 1976 due to cost concerns. However, it succeeded in creating a national code for trailer homes, demonstrating that regulatory, rather than technological, barriers hinder rapid housing construction.

The success of Operation Breakthrough influenced countries like Japan and Sweden, where a significant portion of construction is now industrialized. For example, the Lindbäcks factory in Sweden produces modular housing units efficiently using methods inspired by the automotive industry. Sweden’s performance-based building codes also encourage innovation, unlike the U.S.'s prescriptive codes.

Rupnik, now co-founder of the firm MOD X, is working with HUD to re-evaluate Operation Breakthrough and promote efficient industrialized housing in the U.S. His research suggests that industrialization can significantly increase housing productivity, reduce costs, and address the housing shortage. Despite challenges, Rupnik believes that returning to the ambition of Operation Breakthrough and embracing industrialization is essential for solving America's affordable housing crisis.

Original article posted on June 8, 2024

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