“The future of the real estate market lies in automation and scaled production.”
Determined to elevate design and construction standards, WoHo Systems emerges from the hands of architects Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa. Both are also founders of Ensamble Studio, known for distinctive projects such as the reconstruction of the European Parliament and Can Terra in Menorca. In this interview, Borja Soriano, architect and COO of WoHo Systems, unveils the essence of the company. Supported by technology, it can fully integrate critical areas typically misaligned in most architectural developments. The design, engineering, and manufacturing of WoHo Systems’ buildings result in more resilient, intelligent, and sustainable constructions.
You are a recently established company, but with a team that has extensive experience in the real estate sector and various fields. How and why did WoHo Systems come about? Who is behind the project?
WoHo Systems emerged in response to the current situation in the real estate and construction sector. Co-founders Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa had been developing prefabrication applied to architecture for years at their firm Ensamble Studio, where I have been an associated architect since 2013. After serving as project managers and also builders for Ensamble Studio’s works, they identified many problems in the construction process and the relationship between all stakeholders. Therefore, they began researching with the goal of creating an automated, certified, and sustainable construction system. As we worked and identified deficits in these processes, we decided that the only way to audit and certify quality in construction, sustainability, design, engineering, and execution was to completely control the manufacturing process. This is how WoHo Systems was born.
You claim that we are experiencing a paradigm shift in design and construction. How does WoHo Systems propose that we face this transformation?
After analyzing many existing multifamily and Built-to-rent buildings in Spain and the United States, we concluded that 80% of construction is the same in all of them. They always seek the structural bay (distance between two parallel structural elements) and the layout that allows for a more efficient ratio of built/usable area. The only thing that varies substantially is the envelope.
At WoHo Systems, we automate that 80% of the building with a design that, after several years of study, we believe is the most efficient. We always design the envelope separately in the project, creating a product that is completely industrializable but unique.
“The future of construction lies in information. With new digital technologies, it is increasingly easy and efficient to integrate processes.”
Construction is moving towards more resilient, intelligent, and sustainable buildings. How does WoHo Systems contribute to achieving this goal in its projects?
WoHo Systems collaborates with the best suppliers and companies in the market. Not only for the quality of their product but because we share values and a goal: to create a sustainable future for all of us. They are involved from the very beginning in the design to avoid material waste and optimize their manufacturing to the maximum.
Our buildings are 100% electric, and we only use water in our systems. As a product, our units are 100% digitally modeled, and all consumption and controls are fully integrated into a unit management system that gives the user and owner real-time access to all building information, as well as a 3D model of their home. All this information, combined with the best materials, extends the building’s lifespan and prolongs its life cycle.
Which of your projects would you say best represents you?
Without a doubt, e-Parla 5X. It is a building we are developing in the historic center of Parla in Madrid. With this building, which we are promoting ourselves, we want to show the world that luxury can be democratized and offer a “Carbon and Net Zero” home, BREEAM excellent – “Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology” certified – with the best qualities in the market in a neighborhood that represents the reality of Spanish society. In addition, we chose a plot between party walls, with difficult access and poorer soil, so that our future clients can understand that an automated system can fit perfectly on any plot, playing with the cores and common areas, and also have a unique design. The building is already 100% prefabricated in our factory and is being finished to be assembled at the beginning of 2024.
What would you say are the main challenges facing the construction industry in terms of sustainability?
A factor that challenges sustainability is the cost of building and construction. Sustainability is often thought of as a value associated with the luxury market and small scale, generally implemented in an advanced project phase, after the design process, as an addition. This is not the case with WoHo Systems, as we incorporate these principles from the initial design phase, in the choice of materials and systems. This drastically reduces costs and allows our clients to have a building with zero carbon and energy impact that fits into the cost of the Spanish rental market.
Sustainability is the mission that guides us and is intrinsic to our product. To achieve this goal, we have partnered with companies like Transsolar, leading WoHo Systems’ environmental strategy.
“Our goal is to decarbonize architecture and manufacture 50,000 Net Zero homes by 2050.”
You recently attended the I Proptech Forum organized by Deloitte in Madrid, where current challenges were analyzed to accelerate the digital transformation of the real estate sector. Where do you think we stand?
We believe that the future of construction lies in information. With new digital technologies, it is increasingly easy and efficient to integrate processes and analyze data. All digital tools: 3D scanners, BIM models (Building Information Modeling), Digital Twins, data management and manufacturing software, etc., allow us to evaluate the life cycle of buildings, energy measurements, logistics from manufacturing to demolition, operate the building, incident reporting… In the real estate sector, it also gives us the opportunity to detect assets and assess potential developments.
We believe that in the short term, all this information will not only be an added value but mandatory, as is already the case in other sectors, and the sooner it is implemented, the more efficient and hygienic the process will be.
How do you see the future of the real estate market?
We have a rapidly growing population, constantly migrating to new points of cultural interest. Markets inflated and with housing needs but without means to execute them. Pandemics that change the way cities are organized. At WoHo Systems, we understand that it is important to detach the product from its location to avoid all these fluctuations. We manufacture in a controlled environment, in a stable market, and supply to any place in the world. The enormous demand for new housing and the goal of certifying the quality of our product make automation and scaled production the only future of the real estate market for us.
And the future of WoHo Systems in the short and long term?
WoHo Systems is a Venture Capital-funded company whose goal is to automate the construction process and manufacture carbon and energy-zero homes on a large scale.
Now we can manufacture between 200 and 400 homes per year, and our goal is to reach around 2,000 homes with an automation system that we have already designed, but we need a pipeline to implement it.
Our closest goal is the completion of the e-Parla 5x project next year. Currently, we have 24 units planned and ready to be developed in 2024 in Madrid, and we are expanding our horizons to California and Massachusetts in the United States, where we have planned 200 and 96 units, respectively. We understand that this expansion and growth will be a springboard to reach other places worldwide and add value to the company. We will base our operations in Madrid and work with subsidiaries (last-mile factories) in different locations to carry out final assemblies, inspections, finishes, etc.
With WoHo Systems, our goal is to decarbonize architecture and manufacture 50,000 Net Zero homes by 2050.