House Of The Immediate Future A Mix of Prefab and Site Built Construction

© University of Washington

In 1962 architect Robert Martin Engelbrecht designed the Home for the Immediate Future for the Panelbild Division of the United States Plywood Corporation. It is a clever design, built in an era when there was a lot of experimentation with new technologies in housing, much of which went nowhere. Now, 50 years later, Preston at Jetson Green shows us the House for the Immediate Future, being built as part of the 50th anniversary of the fair by Habitat for Humanity, and designed by The Miller Hull Partnership.

© Miller Hull

What is most fascinating about this house is the mix of technologies. One of the problems with modular housing is that much of a house is made of simple planes of studs and plywood, which can be built pretty cheaply by relatively unskilled labour. Other parts, like kitchens and baths, require sophisticated 3D components and highly skilled trades. The architects have carefully separated the two; Mike Jobes of Miller Hull writes on the company blog:

Our hybrid-approach to construction systems includes prefabricated “wet-cores” (mechanical room, kitchen, bathrooms) by Method Homes and a panelized double-stud exterior wall assembly constructed by Habitat volunteers. By prefabricating the infrastructure cores, professional labor can be separated from a less-skilled volunteer force so important to every Habitat for Humanity project. Volunteers will build wall panels that can be erected around the wet-cores at the Seattle Center exhibit and then disassembled and moved to the permanent site.

© Habitat for Humanity

Years ago I worked on a study of a project like this; I proposed a three storey stack that would be dropped into a basement with the furnace at the lowest level, powder room and kitchen on the first and bathrooms on the second. Nobody liked the of building these so that they could be shipped on their side. It didn't occur to me to just stack them like Miller Hull and Method Homes does here. It is much simpler, even if it means more connections.

© Miller Hull

While I am rather fond of Engelbrecht's design from 50 years ago, Jobes makes an interesting comment about how things have changed:

Our approach seems modest when compared with the space-age vision in 1962. But that’s the point.

The difference highlights how advances in building science over the past five decades have trended toward a sober return to basics as we better understand the reality of limited resources and global warming. Smaller footprints in walkable transit-oriented communities and ever-tighter building envelopes that make miserly use of renewable energy sources may not capture the imagination quite like the sci-fi visions of the past, but may be the only way we can survive long into the future.

More at Miller Hull

Tags: Architects | Green Building | Housing Industry | Seattle

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