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December 24, 2015
From the heart of Chicago to the Australian coast, prefab and modular approaches are proving to be more advantageous (if not necessary) as compared to traditional construction. These quotes, culled from our recent 2016 Prefab issue, cut to the heart of the architect's and client's thinking.

Purchasing a lot off the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, Martha Moseley and Bill Mathesius adapted an unused concrete foundation—remnants of its previous owner’s abandoned plans—to create a home that’s uniquely their own. “We were inspired by the site, and our desire to have something cool and different,” says Moseley. 

Fashioned from 11 shipping containers and a preexisting raised-concrete foundation, the three-level, 7,200-square-foot structure stands in stark contrast to the neighboring vernacular of prewar summer cottages. The couple were inspired to build using the distinctively industrial material upon realizing the length of the foundation—a botched, unrealized construction project of its previous owner—perfectly matched that of 45-foot-long containers.

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modern prefab home in Paris suburb with Technal sliding doors and windows, wood stairway to garden and concrete and red cedar facade

Djuric Tardio Architectes is a Paris-based firm that specializes in sneaking cutting-edge ecological ideas into the city’s existing urban framework—much of which is reinforced by ironclad zoning restrictions and a strong sense of tradition. This project in Les Lilas by Caroline Djuric involved the usual spirit of ingenuity for a firm accustomed to creating adventurous designs within strict limits. To accommodate a family of four without running afoul of zoning rules, an existing brick house would nearly double in size (to a little over 1,600 square feet) with only a slight extension of its footprint. “We chopped off the head of the house,” Djuric says, “and created a new top floor made of pine.”

The extension’s walls were constructed from prefabricated panels, which cut down on costs, keeping the project within its budget of approximately $280,000. As much as the idea of designing a house from the ground up appeals to Djuric, she says extension projects are in some respects more rewarding—in part because of all the challenges they present. “The most problematic designs are often the most interesting,” she explains. “Working with an existing piece of architecture, like we did here, usually leads us in unexpected directions.”   

 

 

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Originally appeared in Now That's How You Double Your Square Footage
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This project’s owners, Mel Matthews and her husband, Roy, had lived on five acres of this preternaturally lovely Hampshire woodland setting for 24 years—first in a static trailer and then in an off-the-shelf mobile home—before they finally decided that they’d had enough of cold winters in their poorly insulated park home. “We looked at larger houses in the area, but we kept coming back to our beautiful site surrounded by bluebell woods and streams,” Mel says. With that in mind, the couple set out to find an architect to build a bespoke house on the site. They found their match in PAD Studio, attracted by the firm’s design approach and Passivhaus principals. 

While new permanent construction is prohibited in this protected conservation area, planning permission existed for a mobile dwelling. Following extensive research into the field, PAD Studio designed Forest Lodge: a steel-frame structure featuring an open-plan layout combining living, dining, and kitchen areas, and two bedrooms, one of which doubles as an office. The house was prefabricated and fully fitted out internally—down to the ceiling fans and limestone countertops—in Yorkshire over the course of five months. It arrived on site in two parts on two flatbed trucks, and was then lifted by crane onto the existing concrete-and-limestone plinth.

 

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Careful districting has made West Grand Avenue one of the last places in Chicago’s West Town where factories and family homes still exist side by side. Zoned as a planned manufacturing district (PMD) to bolster local commerce, the south side of the street is populated by brick warehouses, while the northern half is mostly residential. Despite the proximity of live and work spaces, incorporating both elements into a single building is practically unheard of in the area, as Daniel Staackmann and Nicole Sopko discovered when they began researching the arterial as a home for themselves and their vegan food company, Upton’s Naturals. The business, founded by Daniel in 2006, requires space for office and storefront operations, as well as manufacturing for their signature product, seitan, a protein-filled meat alternative made by rinsing the starch from wheat. Daniel knew he wanted to be close at all times, a decision that greatly narrowed their search.

“We could find plenty of industrial buildings that we could put a factory in, but they weren’t appropriate for retail and definitely not for living,” he recalls. A vacant lot across from the PMD met all their criteria but necessitated a fresh build. Looking to offset the cost of construction, Daniel and Nicole, Upton’s vice president, turned to architect Martin Felsen and designer Sarah Dunn of UrbanLab. The designers had used prefab elements to make their own live-work space, and set out to create a mixed-use building that wouldn’t shortchange any of Upton’s functions. Going completely prefab, the UrbanLab team reasoned, would mitigate cost but would also sacrifice  flexibility. “Everybody’s dream is: You call and order [a home], and two weeks later it arrives,” Dunn says. “Our strategy is to prefab intelligently.” 

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Martha's Vineyard prefab made of modular concrete boxes

Six modular, concrete boxes comprise this five-bedroom home on Martha’s Vineyard, in Chilmark, Massachusetts. Designed with the sloping seaside site in mind, it was built to guard against potential erosion: Connected by interstitial wood paneling, each of the six units can be moved in just a week and fully installed in a few months. Architect Peter Rose and his team decided to compose the house as a series of six modular structures connected by two intersecting corridors. Each of the six boxes can be lifted by crane; if the site becomes compromised, all that needs to be rebuilt is the foundation and the spaces between the modular units. 

“We were anticipating that the house would have two sites,” says Rose. “In a way, we prefabricated the house on-site. If you consider the initial one to be the site of fabrication and the second one as the final site, it’s anticipating prefabrication in an intelligent way. And prefabrication always offers a benefit, whether it be cost or quality.” In the case of East House, the benefits were time and efficiency of construction: Rose estimates it would take only a week to move those pieces, “with a couple of months to suture them together.” 

 

 

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Originally appeared in Six Concrete Boxes Make a Jaw-Dropping Martha's Vineyard Home
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Desert Canopy House lap pool

Just as cacti utilize layers to protect their precious cores, so too does this hybrid prefab home: For the solid exterior walls, Sander devised a “sandwich” of eight-inch-thick expanded polystyrene (“what coffee cups are made of,” he says) and high-tech reflective foil-and-foam wrap (he calls this the “space blanket”). This is topped by eight more inches of structural insulated panels, or SIPs—making the house, with its 17-inch-thick walls, hyper-insulated against the heat. Further protection comes in the form of a deep, fixed overhang that, in some places, extends about 20 feet out from the glazed window wall, to help offset solar gain.  

Beneath the roof canopy, which covers some 10,000 square feet, the 6,200-square-foot house is made up of a series of living pods, roughly divided into living, guest, and master zones—the latter two accessible only from the outside. Like much of Sander’s work, the house was built using a hybrid system, with the exterior walls and lightweight steel beams prefabricated and trucked to the site—the core of the house went up in just two months’ time—supplemented by on-site customization: poured-in-place concrete walls and floors, exterior pathways, and a custom kitchen.

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Originally appeared in An Energy-Efficient Hybrid Prefab Keeps Cool in the Palm Springs Desert
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Modern beachside prefab home in Australia by Archiblox with colorbond ultra steel and queensland blue gum wood claddingon the facade

When Richard and Jackie Willcocks started looking to build a house on the northern beaches of Sydney that could be completed by Christmas 2014, less than a year away, they knew it had to be prefab. Richard, who runs a boutique snowboard business, and Jackie, a medical student, once lived in a shipping container apartment building in Canberra and had watched as one half of the six-story block was assembled in three weeks. “It was phenomenal,” Richard recalls. Online, they found ArchiBlox, a Victoria-based prefab company with a portfolio of modular houses in New South Wales, and the couple turned to the firm to design their 1,140-square-foot retreat.

“We can do a single dwelling much quicker than a traditional site build,” says managing director Bill McCorkell. After a two-month design process and five months to secure proper permits, the house was installed on-site in just six weeks, meeting the clients’ deadline. Beyond its speedy construction time, prefab suited the couple’s desire to tread lightly on the land. With modular building, “the impact on the surrounding environment is heavily reduced during construction,” Richard says. The house, located above Avalon Beach, is elevated on structural posts in order to reduce water flow, which could create erosion on the cliff’s edge. 

Courtesy of 
Tom Ross
Originally appeared in This Prefab Hangs Out at the Beach
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Modern Colorado prefab cabin by Outward Bound made of steel and birch plywood interior

Sleeping in threadbare shelters and truck beds, the students and teachers of the Colorado Outward Bound School endured the intrusion of the elements during their wilderness trips. To solve the problem, the school commissioned the University of Colorado Denver's design-build program to erect 14 cabins on challenging terrain—a hillside at 10,200 feet above sea level—with minimal environmental impact. The team devised prefabricated structures to reduce time on site while ensuring quality of the build. Each cabin sleeps two to three and is clad in durable and low-maintenance hot-rolled steel. Their dimensional lumber structures and interior birch plywood built-ins were crafted in controlled conditions, then flat-placked to the site, where assembly lasted only three weeks. 

Photo by 
Originally appeared in Tiny Prefab Cabins Upgrade a Rugged Camping Site in Colorado
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up to eleven pennsylvania shipping container steel prefab facade concrete foundation

Purchasing a lot off the Delaware River in Pennsylvania, Martha Moseley and Bill Mathesius adapted an unused concrete foundation—remnants of its previous owner’s abandoned plans—to create a home that’s uniquely their own. “We were inspired by the site, and our desire to have something cool and different,” says Moseley. 

Fashioned from 11 shipping containers and a preexisting raised-concrete foundation, the three-level, 7,200-square-foot structure stands in stark contrast to the neighboring vernacular of prewar summer cottages. The couple were inspired to build using the distinctively industrial material upon realizing the length of the foundation—a botched, unrealized construction project of its previous owner—perfectly matched that of 45-foot-long containers.

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