Building Green Homes at Scale: Steve Glenn’s vision for sustainable prefab architecture

What if you could build a luxurious, environmentally-friendly home – almost instantly? Prefabricated buildings, which are mostly built in a factory and then assembled onsite, are steadily gaining popularity across the world. The California company Plant Prefab is working to take things a step further, focusing on prefab single-family and multi-family homes. Instead of outsourcing the components to a faraway factory, Plant Prefab is the factory. Using sustainable materials and processes, they create the components, with the goal of helping more people to build a life in a prefabricated home.


Geeta Dayal


Noah Sahady

Plant Prefab is headed by Steve Glenn, a forward-thinking developer and entrepreneur with a long track record of making prefabricated homes a reality. Glenn was fascinated by architecture from a very young age. ‘I had Legos and blocks and books on Frank Lloyd Wright,’ he recalls. ‘The first thing I wanted to be was an architect.’

In college at Brown University in the 1980s, he got involved in technology, co-founding a startup called Clearview Software that was acquired by Apple. But architecture and design stayed on his mind, along with environmental issues. ‘Recycling wasn’t easy – you had to go to one place on campus, but I did it because it was the right thing to do,’ he says. ‘I didn’t realise the depth of the problems and challenges involved in the focus on sustainable design.’

‘The first thing I wanted to be was an architect.’

Glenn was deeply inspired by the writings of the late real-estate developer and visionary thinker, James W. Rouse, who wrote that profit could be mixed with purpose.

‘Rouse turned me on to business people who had profit and purpose integral to the work they are doing – to make their projects good for humanity,’ Glenn says. ‘Rouse wasn’t focused on sustainable design per se – sustainable design wasn’t a big thing yet. He was focused on projects that were helping the communities they were in.’ Like Rouse, Glenn felt inspired to try to make a positive difference in the world through his work. ‘The world could use more responsible developers,’ he says.

Rouse’s writings helped inspire Glenn to start LivingHomes in 2006, a pioneering development and design company focused on modern and sustainable prefabricated homes. He spent 11 years running the company, which created many LEED-certified homes. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a US certification system for green building that is recognised internationally. Buildings are awarded points across categories such as carbon dioxide emissions and water efficiency. LivingHomes has built many homes certified at LEED Gold and Platinum (the highest level) status, including Glenn’s own house in California. ‘That’s the first one we designed, designed by Ray Kappe,’ he says. ‘It was installed in eight and a half hours, and it was the first home ever certified LEED Platinum.’

For the past two years, Glenn has been working on his latest venture, Plant Prefab, an even more ambitious project, aiming to advance the practice of prefabricated housing in the US at scale. ‘LivingHomes was the design firm; Plant is the factory,’ he says. ‘I’ve only been in manufacturing for two years. That’s our main business, the actual manufacturing – not the design.’

Plant Prefab, which has recently received major Series A funding from the venture capital firm Obvious Ventures and from Amazon (this first investment in a home builder), and others, aims to disrupt the mostly staid construction and real-estate development industry. ‘I don’t believe there have been great strides in the industry, which is a problem of construction in general,’ says Glenn. ‘Many developers came from an accounting background; they’re just looking to make things as cheap as possible… entrepreneurs and VCs don’t tend to be drawn to this area. We are trying to bring the innovation.’

Plant Prefab was designed to have broad appeal. ‘With Plant, we build for any architect and any style and we build in a more responsible way and it doesn’t matter what your interest is as a client,’ Glenn says. ‘You don’t have to be specifically interested in prefab, nor does your architect. You just build it that way regardless, because that is all we do. Our standard drywall has recycled content, our paints and stains are no VOC [volatile organic compounds], our insulation is among the highest recycled content we could find – that is how we build, regardless.’

The increase in the cost of construction in the US has inadvertently given Plant Prefab an advantage. ‘There’s a dramatic increase in land cost, material cost, labour cost, even permit fees,’ Glenn says. ‘You have never had all of those going up so quickly at once. In places like Japan and Germany and Scandinavia where it has been expensive to build for so long… it’s no surprise that prefab is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, way that construction is completed.’

Prefab buildings are a growing market. A recent article in Architect discussed the surging American interest in prefab, citing a new industry survey from the National Institute of Building Sciences Off-Site Construction Council that 87% of respondents had used prefab components in construction over the past 12 months.

‘Previously, prefab in the US was used mainly for lower cost, standard, non sustainable housing – like mobile homes. Now, with the unprecedented rise in costs for land, labor, materials and permit fees, and construction labor shortages (many left during the downturn), consumers and developers are looking for a more time and cost efficient way to do construction of higher quality, more custom projects – projects you tend to find in urban areas.’ An added benefit: because prefabricated are build off-site, residents of surrounding areas don’t have to face weeks or months of ongoing construction noise. ‘That’s one of the advantages that we talk about too – less disruption to a neighbourhood,’ Glenn says.

'Consumers and developers are looking for a more time and cost efficient way to do construction of higher quality.'

There is an increased demand for sustainable housing. ‘It’s happening, across the US, and indeed the world,’ Glenn says. ‘More and more municipalities mandate you build in an environmentally responsible way, and an increasing number of consumers are demanding sustainable construction – because they care about the impact on their communities and their health. With specific respect to [LEED] certification, there is research that green-certified buildings sell for more, have lower turnover, and people are more productive.’

Plant Prefab’s radical innovation is attractive to investors – and the infusion of venture capital raises the stakes of success. ‘You’re not focused on a very slow and profitable, steady rise of income; you’re on a faster track,’ Glenn says. ‘You are focused on trying to scale what you are doing.’ Scaling is always a challenge. ‘There are just new challenges when you grow… there are HR challenges, there are project management challenges, supply chain challenges. In general, it’s good to have that kind of challenge.’

Plant Prefab is still a young company, but the potential is huge. Prefabricated buildings are the future, according to Glenn. They aren’t just more environmentally sustainable; they’re also practical. ‘I got into this with profit and purpose,’ Glenn says. ‘You’ve got to build in a responsible way.’

Visit Plant Prefab to read more about its current projects

大规模打造绿色家园: 史蒂文∙葛伦对可持续性预制建筑的愿景

假如你几乎可立即建造既豪华又环保的家会怎么样?预制大楼逐渐的在全球大受欢迎, 其多数都在工厂完成建造然后于施工现场组装。位于加利福尼亚的预制工厂 (Plant Prefab) 公司已进而考虑下一步,专注在预制单户家庭与多户家庭住宅。预制工厂并非将组建外包到远程工厂,预制工厂即是工厂本身。他们用可持续性建材和工艺去创造组件,目标帮助更多人在预制房屋里建立生活。


Geeta Dayal


Noah Sahady


在80年代的布朗大学,他投入科技产业,共同创办一间名为Clearview Software软件的初创公司并被苹果收购。建筑与设计随着环境方面的问题却仍深植他心中。他说:“做回收并不容易,你必须要去校园的一个地方,但我这么做了正因为这是对的事。当时我没有意识到关注可持续性设计问题的深度与所面临的挑战。”



葛伦说: “劳斯让我成为利润与目的整合到做对人类有贡献项目工作的商人。劳斯并非专注于可持续性设计本身,当时可持续性并不流行。他专注于能帮助他们所在的小区项目。”如同劳斯,葛伦受到启发并试图透过他的工作为世界做出一些积极的影响。他说: “世界需要更多负责任的开发商。”

劳斯的著作帮助葛伦启发他于 2004年开始居住家园 (LivingHomes)的企划,这是一间专注于现代与可持性预制房屋的创新开发设计公司。他在公司13年,创造出许多LEED认证的房屋。LEED能源暨环境设计领导 (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design),是美国对环保建筑的认证体系并受到国际间认可。建筑物得分的项目如二氧化碳排放和水效率。居住家园(LivingHomes) 已盖了许多得到能源暨环境设计领导 (LEED)金牌与最高荣誉白金奖的房屋,也包含葛伦自己在加利福亚的房子。他说: “那是我们第一个设计的房子,由雷∙凯培设计操刀。安装时间共8.5小时,这是首间得到LEED白金认证的房子。”

过去两年来,葛伦一直致力于他的最新事业 – 预制工厂 (Plant Prefab),这是个更远大的项目,旨在美国大规模推动预制住宅的实践。他说:“居住家园 (LivingHomes)本身是设计公司出身、厂房即是工厂。我投入制造业两年,我们最主要的业务是实际的制造-而不是设计。”

预制工厂从创业投资公司Obvious Ventures获得资金,旨在打散多数固定建案与房地产开发产业。葛伦说: “我不相信这行业里有很大的进步,这是建筑中普遍面临的问题。许多开发商来自会计背景,他们只想把事情做的尽可能便宜…企业家与创投家就不会被吸引到这个领域。我们正努力带来创新的发展。”




对可持续性住屋的需求增加。葛伦说: “这种情况正横跨美国至全球发生。越来越多的市政当局要求环保的方式建造,有越来越多消费者要求可持续性建筑,因为他们在乎其对小区与健康造成的影响。”特别是LEED认证,有研究认为经环保认证的大楼更好出售、低成交额,人们有更好的生产力。"



预制工厂的激进创新对投资方具有吸引力,与创投公司注入增加成功的股本。葛伦说: “你所关注的并非是种缓慢、稳定增加效益的收入,而是在成功的快捷方式上。你专注于努力扩展你正在做的事情上。"扩展总是个挑战。“当你成长就会有新的挑战出现…例如:人力资源、项目管理或供应链挑战。总的来说,面对这样的挑战是件好事。"

预制工厂仍然是间年轻的公司,但其浅力可观。依葛兰之见,预制建筑是未来趋势。它们不只是更具有环境可持续性,也很实用。 葛兰说:“我因为利润和目的而投入它,你必须以负责任的方式去打造。”

拜访预制工厂Plant Prefab阅读更多它的当前计划

This website uses cookies to provide necessary site functionality and improve user experience. If you close this box or continue browsing, you agree to the use of cookies as outlined in Next Generation Living’s Privacy Policy.