Juno, a Silicon Valley real estate startup dedicated to the modular production of multifamily housing from the engineered wood material known as mass timber, has reportedly broken ground on its first project in East Austin. This five-story, 24-unit apartment community with ground-level retail space will rise on an extremely narrow 0.17-acre site at the northwest corner of East Fourth and Comal Streets, placing it inside the Transit-Oriented Development district surrounding the Plaza Saltillo MetroRail station and sharing an intersection with the Foundry I and II office and residential buildings by Cielo Property Group.
The project complies with the area’s S.M.A.R.T. Housing standards and will receive a waiver of certain development fees by offering 17 percent of its residential units for households earning at or below 50 percent of the region’s median family income — which translates to four residences in the building available to individuals making less than $34,650 per year or a family of four making less than $49,450. Thanks to the Saltillo TOD district, the building appears to be adding no additional parking.
Juno’s co-founder, former Apple design director BJ Siegel, pioneered the appearance of the earliest Apple Stores, retail spaces known for a consumer identity no less memorable than the actual products they sell — and according to a recent interview with architecture magazine Dezeen and other coverage, the Juno project hopes to bring that same spirit to the housing industry, with what Siegel describes as the “productization” of the built environment through large-scale production of apartments assembled from a number of modular components all using mass timber.
The Juno system’s 30-odd modular pieces are designed by New York-based studio Ennead Architects, previously behind buildings on the UT Austin campus including Rowling Hall and the Engineering Education and Research Center. Each component is built in an offsite factory and delivered to the project site in flat-pack form.
The obvious hope of the company, as Siegel explains, is that the process of repeatedly manufacturing the same designs and establishing the supply chain for delivering projects in different cities will increase efficiency and could ultimately allow these units to be offered at a lower price point than a typical new-build community.
Siegel believes that designing using modular elements will allow Juno to take advantage of design efficiencies and economies of scale while being able to continuously improve the product.
And if the homes are high quality enough, people will not be concerned that they are not unique.
“Taking it from product design, no one cares that your iPhone is the same as the next person’s iPhone,” he told Dezeen.
“If the quality is so much better, then you’re okay that you have the same phone as somebody else,” he continued.
This is certainly a noble goal, and they’re not the only dogs in the fight, but it’s worth pointing out that lower material costs don’t do anything to lower the price of land — and while standardized designs might streamline the permitting and development process somewhat, it’s frustratingly difficult to build anything quickly or efficiently under Austin’s current code. Siegel mentions in his interview that while this first Juno building contains 24 units, the firm is currently working to bring “much larger projects” online in other metros, “eight to 12-story projects in Seattle and Denver” with 100 to 300 units. Still, if you can build in Austin, you can build anywhere.