It's a Prefabulous World (book review)

Prefabulous World
© Prefabulous World

Over a decade ago, when the idea of green modern prefabricated housing was still new, the dream was to make architect-designed prefabs affordable and accessible to everyone. It didn't happen; most people do not build their own houses but buy them from developers, who in most cases can build for less than prefab companies. They've got the volume and they've got the access to money and they've got the land.

In the end, green modern prefab became the preserve of the wealthy, the second home set who can afford to buy the big piece of land in the country or by the lake, and appreciate the convenience of factory construction instead of wondering what is happening on some site far away in some place with limited availability of trades. Prefab works really well there.

So when I saw the cover of Sheri Koone's new book, Prefabulous World, with a monster Huff-Haus perched on a hill in Switzerland, I feared the worst. Yes, it has its share of monster homes in the country, and we know it's hard to call that sustainable. But there is a lot more in this book, and there things to learn from the million dollar prefabs. It is also a wonderful romp around the world, a grand tour exposing the reader to different technologies, design ideas and prefab solutions that you don't see in North America.

When I reviewed Sheri's last book, a commenter made the usual complaint : "What connection is there between prefab and sustainable? I simply don't see any inherent relationship." Sheri does, and writes:

Prefabrication has been my mantra for a long time because it is such a superior way to build. In addition to saving time and money and reducing site disturbance, prefabrication saves materials.

But it's not enough just to be prefab, and the houses that Sheri shows have a lot more going for them in terms of energy efficiency and green choices of materials and finishes.

Typical page/CC BY 2.0

There is a lot more than just pretty pictures in this book; there is a green sidebar with explanations of local codes and standards, different technologies and materials. By the time you are through this book you have a good grounding in how buildings in different countries and climates adapt to local conditions, traditions and regulations. There is a consistency to the layout, giving critical information about each house including green aspects and energy aspects, and there are unit plans drawn in a consistent style for the book so that you can compare layouts. At the end, there is a useful glossary and list of resources.

© Hervé Abbadie/ Passivhaus in Bessancourt in TreeHugger here

There are a few homes that we have shown on TreeHugger, but Sheri doesn't just round up the usual suspects, I thought I had seen it all but most of this was new to me. They are terrific finds; I may be dining on this book for weeks in TreeHugger.

© FARO Architecten

If I have one quibble, it is that an international tour of prefabricated housing should perhaps show a few of the marvellous multi-family projects that are being done in other countries. It is such a pleasure to see what's going on in the world outside North America, but with few exceptions (like the wonderful Woonhuis Weijnen townhouse near Amsterdam) they are single family detached houses. They are certainly prefabulous, but there is another story to tell. Perhaps that will be Sheri's next book.

More at Abrams Books: Prefabulous World

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