Book Review: The Perfect $ 100,000 House

Karrie Jacobs was founding editor of Dwell Magazine and knows her stuff. She also has an approachable, breezy writing style that is a joy to read. This book is the story of her quest to find the perfect $100,000 house "a great, cheap house, a place that I can afford, that satisfies my need for a home my taste for innovative design and and my desire for a more enlightened approach homebuilding." It came out last summer; I wish I had not waited so long to read it.

It is a road trip; sort of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the Dwell set. She crossed the country twice, met almost everyone in the business, and ultimately failed. However failures are often as interesting and educational as successes (or so I tell myself often) and she has squeezed a victory out of this defeat. I was particularly enchanted by the book because in my years as an architect promoting prefab I met many of the people she visited and knew of the others. Her judgments about people and their work, the companies that she flipped off with barely a mention, show a keen eye and real understanding of who is who and what is what- she nails them all.

Karrie visits most of the prefab designers, and comes away thinking that perhaps it is a bubble. "The least expensive way of building is the most conventional" she says. "the reason no-one's saving money with modular is that systems for building houses, as old-fashioned as they are, are pretty efficient already." What prefab succeeds at is being a new form of delivery of service for architects.That is why Rocio Romero is so successful; her LV house is iconic, but ultimately it is very simple and technically no more sophisticated than a standard house.

Karrie learns that "design decisions have consequences" but also that design alone cannot deliver, context is important too. She found many houses that met the price criterion but were in the middle of nowhere and required driving miles for a quart of milk; in this era that certainly isn't perfect. At the end we read that Karrie has narrowed down her parameters; we look forward to the follow-up when she actually builds her perfect $100,000 house.

Some have complained that you can't write about architecture without pictures; TreeHugger readers will not need them, as almost everyone she meets has been covered in these pages. Her insights add significantly to our understanding of them. ::The Perfect $100,000 house found at ::Ballenford Books

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