January 8, 2008

Pre-Fab Homes as Art

There has been a good deal of buzz recently about pre-fabricated/modular homes -- specifically, people are talking about pre-fabs as art as well as some pretty cool design advancements. Let's back up a bit first. Some of you may not know what a pre-fabricated home is... Wikipedia has a nice definition here. They sound sort of... to put it nicely... lame, right? Still don't get it? Try this site, which will give you a glimpse of what is possible with pre-fab.

I didn't think much about pre-fabricated homes until my college roommate, who actually studied architecture, showed me a project he was working on to design his own modular home. He gave me a brief lesson of what modular/pre-fab housing is, but I came away from his tutorial with a lot more respect for the concept of pre-fabricated homes. He explained that there is currently a revolution occurring in this industry, especially in the modernist genre. Before I learned about pre-fab from him, frankly, I figure pre-fab homes were only for people living in trailer parks.

But what makes pre-fab homes so interesting to me [now] is how versatile they are and more importantly, how inexpensive they are. These homes, many of which utilize very cool designs, can be combined to create truly incredible houses for a fraction of the cost and footprint of a traditional home. I had just never realized that those long, narrow homes I had always seen being transported on highways by "WIDE LOAD" trailers could become such beautiful residences. Take The Dwell Home, designed by Resolution: 4 Architecture for example -- this pre-fab is certainly a place I would be happy living in.

Like I said, pre-fabricated homes are relatively inexpensive, quick to build, and require minimal land. That makes them perfect for individuals who would like to own a nice home with a great design, but simply cannot afford one. These days, architects and designers are pushing the limits with regard to the traditional idea of pre-fab. In fact, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC has decided to showcase this revolution in pre-fabricated home design beginning July 20 in an exhibition titled Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling in the vacant lot next to the museum.

The NYTimes wrote about the exhibit earlier this month. In that article Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of architecture and design at the museum, said that this exhibition really begins this month, because an important part of this exhibit is the process of creating these homes. In February, foundations will be laid in the lot, and from then until July the projects will be built. In June, the houses will arrive on site -- so off-site assembly, along with delivery of the homes, is an important part of this exhibition. Mr. Bergdoll is quotes in the NYTimes saying, "Once the house is here, it becomes a static event. What we're really celebrating is how it came into being."

An article at Greenbuildingsnyc.com mentions the focus this exhibition will have on on sustainable design in an article on its site titles "Green Meets Prefab in Midtown." As Greenbuildingsnyc.com notes, Richard Horden's Micro Compact Home, or "m-ch" is of particular interest -- this design has been in production in Europe for more than 2 years. His company, Micro Compact Home Ltd. has designed these miniature 2.6 square meter-footprint dwellings as:
"...an answer to an increasing demand for short stay living for students, business people, sports and leisure use and for weekenders... Living in an m-ch means focusing on the essential - less is more."

In November 2005, Horden built a small village at Technical University in Munich called the 02 Student Village, which was designed to live 6 students alongside Professor Horden. As described on the Micro Compact Home website,
"Each 2.65m cube features high technology, including broadband and standard internet links a plasma screen and high quality kitchen and bathroom appliances... The 02 student village of micro-compact homes at the Technical University of Munich has proved so successful that all six students living there have extended their stay for the full academic year."
Very impressive! This project serves as a testament to the potential that pre-fabricated homes hold for us in the future. Years from now, it is possible that everyone may live in some type of pre-fab home.

Also this month, at the Consumer Electronics Show, television manufacturer Olevia showcased a very interesting concept. Inhabitat wrote earlier this month about the exhibit, which demonstrated how Olevia products can be a part of a green living situation. Olevia displayed its flat-panel low-energy televisions in pre-fab homes designed by Los Angeles-based Logical Homes, which can be delivered in pieces that come in a single shipping container. The homes can be constructed in just a few days -- think of the tremendous use this could prove in a place like New Orleans, where new homes cannot be built quickly enough! Of course, pre-fabs like these would need to be constructed a few feet above ground on stilts to account for the potential of flooding, but the concept remains the same. Inhabitat writes a lot about pre-fabricated homes and I would encourage you to check out their site. Also, they have a good list of their top-10 pre-fabs here with plenty of photos.

And finally, I just had to mention this Oregon pre-fab studio that I came across on Inhabitat that really blew me away. It's not particularly large, and its design isn't particularly great. But the Watershed studio by FLOAT architectural research and design is another pre-fab that serves multiple purposes. Besides having a limited impact on its surroundings in a beautiful Oregon wetlands location, the 100 sqft Watershed home provides one writer with a small space to experience the ecological restoration and wildlife of that area. From the FLOAT website:
"The writing studio is designed to reveal the ecological complexity of the site to visitors and in this way it is successful: Small tunnels under the studio bring rare reptiles and amphibians into view through the floor-level window. The water collection basin that doubles as the front step draws in birds and deer. At midday, the silhouettes of these animals project from the water onto the interior ceiling. Windows on the west and north sides frame different bird habitats—the tops of fence row trees and the patch of sky at a hilltop updraft. The roof diaphragm amplifies rain sounds and the collection basin is a measure of past rainfall."
It's simply brilliant. And of course, coinciding with today's focus on sustainable design and minimal ecological impact, the studio has an "ultra-light" footprint and is completely recyclable so that when the project is finished, the materials can be reused. Imagine truly being in touch with nature -- besides camping, this studio is the best way to do so that I have ever heard of. Of course, there is no major electricity or plumbing way out there, so it's not a full home that one could live in full-time, but maybe someday I'll build one of these for myself as a weekend vacation spot where I could go to relax and think. Hey, I can dream, right?

Pre-fabricated construction is certainly experiencing a revolution these days. Between pre-fab as art, modernist pre-fab designs, pre-fab ultra-light footprints and even pre-fabricated villages, it is clear that we will be seeing more and more in the way of pre-fabricated living. And no, we don't all have to move into trailer parks.

1 comment:

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