Prefab Housing For The Masses

Prefabricated housing used to be a dirty word in the housing business. Today, many designer prefab houses are an affordable and elegant solution -- maybe even the "holy grail of modernism".

"Prefabricated construction is a term for parts of buildings that are manufactured off-site, from roof sections to entire multiroom dwellings, in standard sizes and shipped for assembly elsewhere.

...Prefab can be a dirty word, suggesting temporary disaster-zone structures and the Shady Lane Trailer Park. Kaufmann, who trained for five years with Frank Gehry before starting her own firm, wants to ditch the downscale connotation by bringing quality, customization, and craftsmanship to factory-built homes. Modern prefabs, she believes, can be more Mies than mobile home.

The prefab trend is already getting some attention in museum circles. In May, Kaufmann's Glidehouse will be featured in an exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Her Breezehouse is currently on display in an architecture show at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

...For the past century, the idea that a factory could produce a house more efficiently and cheaply than carpenters has been a recurring dream - what Lazor calls "the holy grail of modernism." In the 1930s, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius pushed his vision of prefab, a packaged house that arrives at your lot, and he was hardly alone. Architectural historian Colin Davies notes that by the end of World War II, there were more than 200,000 prefab homes in place, made by more than 70 companies. At midcentury, the American landscape was filled with prefab, from the kit abodes sold by Sears' Modern Home department to Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes to the steel-paneled Lustron homes created by - you guessed it - a manufacturer of steel paneling. Even today, luxury developers like Toll Brothers ship entire sections of semicustom homes to building sites."

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