Mass customization in housing can be seen as a blend of two strategies – mass production and individual customization. Individual customization is as old as architecture and housing. Mass production on the other hand is a more recent phenomenon and can be largely attributed to the 20th century. Mass production strategies that have shaped our cities were mostly invented after the Second World War. Indeed, the demand was fueled by the war but also for growing rates of urbanization.
While the mainstream construction industry in 1950s and 1960s aligned itself with the mass production and gradually became more streamlined in order to follow tight production and construction schedules, the early concept of mass customization was also introduced to the public. A Dutch architect John Habraken had already in early 1960s proposed an alternative solution to the modernist mass housing - the Open Building concept.
However, early samples of mass customized housing are few and far between. While there has been a number conceptual works experimenting with the idea, the first real projects combining personalization at the industrial scale and with industrial efficiency are surprisingly recent. This is perhaps not so much to do with technical possibilities, but can be largely attributed to the demand and market dynamics. Speculative development is probably the most suitable term to describe housing markets from the mid 20th century until today.
But things are changing and many supply markets are turning into demand markets. One-size-fits-all ethos is no longer valid for consumer products and the housing industry - although somewhat sluggishly - is following it. People are getting more and more used to buying personalized products and services online. With contemporary off-site construction methods, web and CAD/BIM technologies there is no reason why we should produce and tolerate cookie-cutter housing anymore.
To be continued....