Prefab Architecture in The Postmodern Age
Although prefabricated houses of one sort or another have been around for centuries, they’re most closely associated with the Modernist movement of the 20th century. From Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House to Albert Frey’s Aluminaire House to Jean Prouve’s Tropical House, many of the most celebrated designs have been aluminum.
In each of these cases, aluminum served the architect’s need for a lightweight, durable, versatile dwelling that could be mass produced, transported, and constructed easily and economically. For a variety of reasons, none of these designs took off commercially, and the term “prefab housing” would eventually become associated with lower-end construction.
Prefabricated housing may be poised for a revival, however. A number of factors have prefab housing in a position to become accepted by the mainstream including:
What’s more, architects are actively promoting the concept. Buoyed by computer-assisted design (CAD) methods, architects can frequently provide numerous variations on a prefab design to their clients while using mass-produced factory-standard pieces.
Unlike a modular building, the iT house comes as a specific design—although the architects will customize the floorplan at their standard hourly design rate. A local general contractor is used to install the slab, coordinate all electrical and plumbing work, assemble the aluminum structural frame and cabinets, and install the appliances. Specialized subcontractors will install the walls and roof.
The house is also customizable with a variety of “Things” for interior and exterior use. Many of the items selected—coffee tables, shelving, storage units—are aluminum to help achieve the architects’ Modernist residential vision.
The T-slot structural profiles contain built-in channels that provide uniform tracks into which iT house accessories such as curtains and shelving can be easily “plugged.” So intelligent is this design that the ceiling-to-floor aluminum shelving the architects have specified does not need a supporting wall.
Throughout, the design of the iT house is geared to ensure ease of assembly and availability of components. All of the house’s constituent components are off-the-shelf parts that are internationally distributed by industry partners or locally available as standard construction items. It has been designed to meet applicable building codes, including seismic and energy standards.
Two house kits have already been purchased and are now under construction. The first iT house is being built in Villa Park, Calif., by art collectors John and Phyllis Kleinberg as a guesthouse and temporary residence during the remodeling of their main residence. A second iT house is being built on a 16-acre vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif., as the primary residence for vineyard owners Jan Pierini and Heather Gherardi.
One wonders when the last $175,000 new home was constructed in these locales.
Lovetann Modular House
The Lovetann modular home can be fashioned according to the homebuyer’s desires. Customized, interchangeable panels offer functionality and numerous design possibilities, with built-in standards such as wireless networking, kitchen and bathroom appliances, and home entertainment systems.
Lovetann says it promotes an “environmentally conscious lifestyle” by utilizing renewable, recyclable, durable materials—notably aluminum. The homes are manufactured for flat pack distribution, assemble in under three weeks, and last a lifetime.
Hydro Building Systems—a subsidiary of Hydro Aluminium—will provide the aluminum for all Lovetann homes.
Lovetann’s design concept was developed with simplicity in mind. Aluminum columns and beams form a grid frame consisting of roughly 16’ x 16’ sections. The standard sizing allows for additions and removals with no impact to the overall structure.
Modular panels dress the aluminum frame, with a single unit serving as both the interior and exterior wall. Modules can be stacked three vertically or be arrayed to create a wide ground floor with a partial second story opening onto a roof deck on top of the lower level.
The house is designed to meet relevant building codes and can withstand extreme climates, from dry heat to blizzards to forceful winds. The structure is fire-proofed and insulated.
Lovetann’s CEO and co-founder Espen Oksby describes the company’s goal as “changing the way we are allowed to live by individualizing design.” He says that Lovetann represents an innovative solution for individual styling, and brings the hope of sustainability in a world with a “consume-and-reject mentality.”
Lovetann plans to release new home designs in collaboration with designers and architects from around the world.
Inspired by the idea of an Airstream mobile home, Holl created a 900-square-foot house made from 31 unique digitally prefabricated pieces of aluminum manufactured by the A. Zahner Company of Kansas City and bolted together at the building site. Aluminum acts as both the house’s structure and skin.
To design the house, Holl used specially devised three-dimensional parametric software to permit precise modeling of the irregular, curved form.
The aluminum rib-and-stressed-skin house, built for approximately $100,000, sits atop a windy mesa in New Mexico and plays off the site’s natural characteristics. A breezeway beneath the structure allows turbulent winds to blow through the house, cooling it off naturally. Photovoltaic cells on the roof capture solar energy for use in other buildings on the property. The house is also equipped with a tank for capturing and storing rainwater.
In a further nod to green design principles, Holl neither painted the aluminum nor used toxic coatings of any sort on the structure.
Not unlike Holl’s Turbulence House, the structure is based on monocoque designs from the aircraft and automobile industries in which the external skin supports some or most of the structural load. Aluminum was chosen for the shell of the house because of its durability, low weight, and recyclability.
Like the Lovetann home, MiSo is a modular dwelling designed for mass production that can be customized to accommodate the needs of its users. The building program, building envelope, and interior finishes can all be revised to accommodate local climate and user preferences—allowing for efficient shipping and rapid assembly.
“The construction of MiSo is unique because we took a raw material, aluminum, in its purest form and refined it to a high level of craftsmanship,” says Jonas Hauptman, faculty coordinator of the project. “Utilizing a series of precise jigs, the product is both aesthetically beautiful and economically efficient at mass production. It is built to be a 100-year heirloom from day one.”
For their Solar Decathlon entry—which was displayed in October on the National Mall in Washington—students formed aluminum sheet in precise thicknesses of 0.030” to 0.090” into larger component pieces, subsequently assembled the component pieces into modules, and then set them on a trailer framework.
MiSo’s double-layered façade is made from a hybrid rib-stiffened stressed aluminum skin using adhesion assembly techniques borrowed from the automotive and aerospace industries. Together, the structure and enclosure constitute a unibody system that is insulated via a double skin cavity which provides a transfer flue for passive heating and cooling.
Following the competition, sponsored by the Department of Energy to promote innovation in energy-efficient building design, the house was disassembled and trucked back to Michigan. Team MiSo is actively pursuing a permanent location for the project so that it can “continue to inspire” long after the end of the competition.