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Operation Breakthrough was a 3-phase HUD demonstration that tested innovative building materials and methods. Operating from May 1969 to the mid-1970s, Operation Breakthrough was designed to identify and demonstrate solutions to obstacles preventing large-scale housing production in the nation, with the goal of volume production of quality housing for all income groups. The demonstration sought housing system improvements, while at the same time providing improved environmental quality and low-cost maintenance. As stated by then-Secretary George Romney, Operation Breakthrough is “not a program designed to see just how cheaply we can build a house, but is a way to break through to total new systems of housing production, financing, marketing, management, and land use.”

Phase I – Design and Development: In Phase I, 22 Housing System Producers were chosen from over 200 competitors to prepare designs, develop engineering data, and plan the construction of prototype units. The selected producers utilized housing systems ranging from precast concrete- or wood-framed modules to units constructed largely of plastic or metal. Some systems were already in production when selected, while others were new and untested.

Phase II – Prototype Construction and Demonstration: Phase II involved the construction of more than 2,900 prototype housing units at sites across the country. Contracts were awarded to 11 site planners, eight site developers, and 22 related research organizations. Two of the prototype sites were later eliminated because of budget restrictions, leaving the following sites which represented a wide range of geographic, climatic, and marketing conditions.

  1. Kalamazoo, Michigan: 33.8 acres, 245* units
  2. St. Louis, Missouri: 7.6 acres, 464 units
  3. Macon, Georgia: 50 acres, 287 units
  4. Sacramento, California: 31.2 acres, 407 units
  5. King County, Washington: 35.9 acres, 178 units
  6. Memphis, Tennessee: 16 acres, 518 units
  7. Jersey City, New Jersey: 6.35 acres, 487 units
  8. Seattle, Washington: 1.8 acres, 58 units
  9. Indianapolis, Indiana: 42.9 acres, 295 units

*Note: Numbers related to Operation Breakthrough often vary across sources.

Phase III – Volume Production and Marketing: Phase III of Operation Breakthrough focused on volume production. Though the intent was to build 25,000 subsidized units, as of March 1976, only 18,000 units had been completed. Most units were constructed under HUD’s Section 236 mortgage subsidy program.


Feedback Series

Guide and Format for the Preparation of a Housing System Testing and Analysis Program

Housing Systems Proposals for Operation Breakthrough (1970)
This document contains technical descriptions of the hundreds of proposals submitted to HUD for Operation Breakthrough.

Cross Index: Operation Breakthrough Matrix Construction Specifications Institute Uniform System (1970)
This technical document is a cross index between the matrix intercepts from the National Bureau of Standards publication "Guide Criteria for the Design and Evaluation of OPERATION BREAKTHROUGH Housing Systems" and various titles of the Construction Specifications Institute's Uniform System.

Operation Breakthrough: An Overview of Operation Breakthrough Guide Criteria (1971)
This report provides an overview of the materials performance criteria developed by the Operation Breakthrough research team.

Operation Breakthrough Site Planner's Report: St. Louis, Missouri (1973)
This report provides an analysis of the physical, cultural, and social characteristics of the selected Laclede East and West project sites in St. Louis, Missouri, a conceptual site plan, and an account of the construction of the project.

Operation Breakthrough: Fire Endurance Test on a Steel Tubular Column Protected with Gypsum Board (1973)
This report, prepared by the Center for Building Technology of the National Bureau of Standards' Institute for Applied Technology, details fire endurance tests carried out as part of Operation Breakthrough.

The Implementation of a Provision Against Progressive Collapse (1975)
Under Operation Breakthrough, different housing systems were selected, evaluated, and constructed on demonstration sites. The National Bureau of Standards, on behalf of HUD, drafted criteria to guide the development and subsequent evaluation of these housing systems. These criteria contained a provision against progressive collapse under catastrophic loading which was not previously contained in any U.S. code or standard. This report discusses the implementation of this provision.

Operation Breakthrough: Lessons Learned about Demonstrating New Technology, Report to Congress (1976)
In this report, the Comptroller General of the United States describes its review of Operation Breakthrough. It found that the demonstration did not prove the marketability of most of the sponsored housing construction methods, but it did support useful changes in the housing industry. Experience gained through Operation Breakthrough indicated that demonstration programs should involve thorough preliminary work to develop criteria, evaluate approaches, and analyze market uncertainties; feasible strategies to overcome marketing problems; research to resolve technical questions; and planning for program evaluation.

A Methodology for Evaluation Housing in Use: A Case Study Approach (1981)
The National Bureau of Standards prepared this report on the methodology of Project Feedback, the evaluation of Operation Breakthrough housing in use (a post-occupancy housing evaluation). The report introduces housing evaluations and encourages their use by providing both housing questionnaires and a nontechnical, practical discussion of research methods in general and of survey research in particular.

Evidence Matters The Edge HUD Press Release

These photos show some of the housing constructed through Operation Breakthrough.

Kalamazoo Community Center
Kalamazoo, Mich. Levitt Building Systems
Kalamazoo Site
Kalamazoo, Mich. FCE Dillon
Kalamazoo, Mich. Hercoform Marketing, Inc.
5-bedroom townhouse at $298 per month<br>Kalamazoo, Michigan
2-bedroom townhouse at $147 per Month<br>Kalamazoo, Michigan
Kalamazoo, Mich. National Homes
Kalamazoo, Mich. FCE-Dillon, Inc.
Kalamazoo, Mich. Inland Scholz
Kalamazoo, Mich. Material Systems Corporation
Kalamazoo, Mich. National Homes Corp.
Kalamazoo, Mich. Hercoform
Kalamazoo, Mich. Inland-Scholz
Kalamazoo, Mich. Republic Steel Corporation
Kalamazoo, Mich. Republic Steel Corp.
Kalamazoo, Mich. Levitt units & Playground
Sacramento site
Sacramento, Calif. Boise-Cascade Housing Development
Sacramento Community Center
Sacramento, Calif. Community Technology Corp. (TRW)
Sacramento, Calif. Community Technology Corporation (TRW)
Sacramento, Calif. Christiana Western Structures
Seattle site
Seattle site
Seattle site
Jersey City, N.J. Shelley Systems
Macon Community Center
Macon Community Center
Macon, Ga. Hercoform Marketing, Inc.
Macon, Ga. Building Systems Int.
Macon, Ga. Building Systems International
Macon, Ga. Boise-Cascade
Macon, Ga. Boise-Cascade Housing Development
Macon, Ga. Alcoa Construction Systems, Inc.
King County, Wash. Levitt Building Systems, Inc.
King County, Wash. Levitt Building Systems, Inc.
King County, Wash. Alcoa Constructions Systems, Inc.
King County, Wash. Alcoa Constructions Systems, Inc.
Indianapolis, Ind. Pemtom, Inc.
Indianapolis, Ind. Pemtom, Inc.
Indianapolis, Ind. Inland-Scholz
Indianapolis, Ind. Home Building Corporation
Indianapolis, Ind. National Homes Corporation
Indianapolis Community Center
St. Louis, Mo. Community Center
St. Louis, Mo. Rouse-Wates
St. Louis, Mo. Rouse-Wates
St. Louis, Mo. Home Building Corporation
St. Louis, Mo. Home Building Corp.
St. Louis, Mo. Home Building Corp.
St. Louis, Mo. Visitor’s Center
Memphis, Tennessee. General Electric Company
Memphis site
Memphis, Tenn. General Electric
Memphis, Tenn. General Electric
Springfield, Mass. Hercoform Phase III
Columbus, Ohio Phase III Amberly Apts. Inland-Scholz