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.
- Kalamazoo, Michigan: 33.8 acres, 245* units
- St. Louis, Missouri: 7.6 acres, 464 units
- Macon, Georgia: 50 acres, 287 units
- Sacramento, California: 31.2 acres, 407 units
- King County, Washington: 35.9 acres, 178 units
- Memphis, Tennessee: 16 acres, 518 units
- Jersey City, New Jersey: 6.35 acres, 487 units
- Seattle, Washington: 1.8 acres, 58 units
- 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: Operation Breakthrough, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Phase I, Design and Development of Housing Systems (January 1973)
This document is a compendium of the 22 housing systems designed for Operation Breakthrough.
- Feedback: Operation Breakthrough, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, A Compendium of Building Concepts, Volume 2 (1974)
This compendium describes some of the new concepts and techniques for designing and constructing housing that were developed and utilized by the Housing Systems Producers in Operation Breakthrough. It is broken down into nine major building element classifications: enclosed spaces; structure; exterior enclosure; interior enclosure; heating, ventilating, and air conditioning; plumbing; electrical; elevators; and hardware, specialties, and appliances.
- Feedback: Operation Breakthrough, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, A Documentary of Transportation and Handling Systems, Volume 3 (1974)
This document provides a general record of the transportation, handling, storage, and erection systems employed by each of the Operation Breakthrough Housing Systems Producers during Phase II. It also describes certain methods that appeared to offer opportunities to reduce overall logistics and construction costs while protecting a finished module, panel, or component from damage.
- Feedback: Operation Breakthrough, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Phase II: Prototype Construction and Demonstration, Volume 4 (1975)
This report describes the nine Operation BREAKTHROUGH prototype sites and tell how they were built.
- Feedback: Operation Breakthrough, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, A Compendium of Fire Testing, Volume 5 (March 1976)
This compendium summarizes the tests conducted and the results obtained from fire safety performance evaluation of the broad range of innovative materials and housing construction techniques that were used in Operation Breakthrough.
- Feedback: Operation Breakthrough, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, A Compendium of the Performance Testing Program, Volume 6 (May 1976)
This compendium provides a generalized recap of the performance testing undertaken to evaluate Operation Breakthrough housing systems.
- Feedback: Operation Breakthrough, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Phase II, Site Planning and Design, Volume 7 (November 1976)
This document provides a compendium of the site planning efforts of Operation Breakthrough's multidisciplinary site planning teams. It describes their planning process, their objective and goals, their plans, and the ultimate environment that was created. The bulk of the source material for this compendium is from the reports of the planners.
Guide and Format for the Preparation of a Housing System Testing and Analysis Program
- Volume I: Multifamily High Rise (1970)
- Volume II: Multifamily Low Rise (1970)
- Volume III: Single Family Attached (1970)
- Volume IV: Single Family Detached (1970)
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: Mass Produced and Industrialized Housing, a Bibliography (1970)
This historic document is an annotated bibliography of reports, books, and periodicals pertaining to industrialized construction, a systematized building method involving fabrication of building elements at an offsite facility. The HUD Library compiled the document and arranged the sources by topic, including: Building Industry; HUD Housing Research; Operation Breakthrough; Specific Building Systems; and Mobile Homes.
References from Guide Criteria for Operation Breakthrough Housing Systems (1970)
This historic document, prepared by the National Bureau of Standards at the behest of HUD, is a reference document to assist users of the four-volume Guide Criteria for the Evaluation of Operation Breakthrough (also known as NBS Report 10200). It is primarily comprised of lists of national standards organizations, their publications, and means of obtaining code and standard documents.
Proposed Uniform Charts of Accounts to be Used in Phase II and Phase III of Operation Breakthrough (1970)
This historic document consists of proposed accounting charts, composed for use in Phase I and II of Operation Breakthrough in order to uniformly estimate and monitor the expense of different building prototypes at the time of construction and over their useful lives. The charts were prepared by the American University’s nonprofit Homer Hoyt Institute, under contract for HUD. Operation Breakthrough was a major HUD demonstration that ran from 1969 – 1974, to test the development of new industrialized construction methods and designs.
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 Planning — Indianapolis, Indiana (1972)
This historic report details the development of the 120-acre Operation Breakthrough site in Indianapolis, Indiana. A piece of public land in Indianapolis was selected as one of 11 original sites for the demonstration project, and construction of 295 prototype industrialized housing units began at this location in 1971.
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.
- Factory-Built Housing for Affordability, Efficiency, and Resilience (2020)
- Effects of Market Forces on the Adoption of Factory-Built Housing (2020)
HUD Challenge was a HUD magazine published from 1969 to 1978. Contemporaneous to Operation Breakthrough, HUD Challenge provides a unique and real-time look at the demonstration.
- Operation Breakthrough: A Nationwide Effort to Produce Millions of Homes (1969)
- Operation Breakthrough: A Progress Report (1970)
- Labor Looks at Breakthrough and Speaks Its Mind! (1971)
- Operation Breakthrough: The Scientific Approach (1971)
- Breakthrough Control Room (1971)
- Operation Breakthrough Sites (1971)
- Building: From Bedlam to Truck Bed (1971)
- Code Barriers Topple (1971)
- Accomplishments of HUD/1969-1972 (1972)
- The Uchida Mission (1972)
- Operation Breakthrough: A Progress Report (1972)
- Operation Breakthrough: Catalyst for Change (1972)
- Breakthrough Provides A Suitable Environment (1972)
- Breakthrough Transportation – A Systems Approach (1972)
- Testing Breakthrough Units (1972)
- Breakthrough Sites (1972)
- Breakthrough Phase III – Volume Production (1972)
- Breakthrough "Type B" Contracts (1972)
- First Breakthrough Homes Occupied (1972)
- Accomplishments of HUD 1969-1972 (1973)
- Amenities: The Bridge Between Shelter and Environment (1973)
- Operation Breakthrough Phase III…It Works in New England (1974)
These photos show some of the housing constructed through Operation Breakthrough.